The Cost of Title IX Noncompliance: Is Your Department Protected?
When athletes, coaches, staff, or other individuals experience acts of sexual misconduct or other forms of gender discrimination or harassment, their sense of safety and trust is violated. This may significantly interfere with their successes on the field or court, in the classroom, or at work. It is incumbent upon schools to seek to prevent sexual misconduct and ensure gender equity through effective policies, expanded educational efforts, and accessible support for those harmed.
Schools who do not comply with Title IX risk expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. Additionally, a complaint may be filed with the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) (which is the federal government office that is responsible for enforcing Title IX).
Not only does OCR investigate Title IX complaints but it also posts the names of institutions that it is investigating in its searchable database maintained on the Department of Education website.
The Department of Education also may seek withdrawal of a school’s federal funds, including money earmarked for student loans, as a penalty for non-compliance with Title IX.
One recent example involving a nationally recognized Power 5 (P5) institution was sparked when two alumni students alleged that the university had improperly handled their complaints of sexual assault. These allegations led to a five-year investigation by OCR. Following the investigation, OCR ruled that the institution had in fact violated Title IX regulations in its handling of the issue. While there were no financial repercussions in this particular instance, the reputational cost to the institution was significant, as a documentary film was later produced publicly highlighting the details of the incident.
A class-action Title IX lawsuit was recently filed by four female student-athletes at another P5 institution after the school cut a women’s sport for budgetary reasons following the COVID-19 pandemic. A court order required the school to reinstate the team through a temporary injunction. The team was later permanently reinstated following an out of court settlement with the students.
The human and community toll should always remain at the forefront of prevention and response Title IX initiatives, however the incidents mentioned above highlight the serious financial and reputational risks associated with not implementing intentional awareness and prevention programs. These measures are critical to creating a safe, equitable campus community for everyone.
Tanya Jachimiak is a senior legal compliance professional with over 20 years of experience in higher education. She is currently the Director of the Office of Gender Equity and Access/Title IX Coordinator at Kalamazoo College.