Title IX Changes Again: How are Employee Protections Affected in California?

July 27, 2022

Education Amendment of 1972, widely known as Title IX, is a federal civil rights law now celebrating 50 years since its enactment. Title IX protects employees, and students alike, in educational settings from being discriminated against based on their gender, including forms of sexual harassment. Title IX has recently undergone many modifications that may affect you as an employee in the State of California.

Biden Administration Moves to Further Title IV Protections

Title IX was born out of the need for balance, equality, and accessibility in academia and athletics for women, including female faculty, staff, and students, at educational institutions across the United States. However, the Biden Administration recently expanded Title IX provisions to define "sexual discrimination" further to include sexual assault. Moreover, the expansion moves to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, extending protections to the LGBTQ+ communities within affected academic organizations and activities. Such protections were in place but were rescinded during the previous administration under former US President Donald Trump.

To Which Institutions Does Title IX Apply?

It's a question rocking the nation as some schools are up in arms over the recent expansion of Title IX protections, particularly if and how Title IX applies to them. Typically, any institution which accepts federal financial assistance, funding, or aid is subject to the laws under Title IX. For example, schools (public and non-profit private) participating in the National School Lunch Program are technically bound to abide by the regulations under Title IX. All Title IX protections and conditions apply to state and public institutions as well as many private schools that receive any degree of federal funding.

What constitutes federal assistance and funding?

Most recently, a California court ruled in support of holding a private Christian school accountable for violations under Title IX and allowed a student to continue with her Title IX claim against the private school due to their partaking in the federal Paycheck Protection Programs or PPP loan program. The case, EH v. Valley Christian Academy, involved a California private Christian high school refusing to play any further games of full-contact tackle football against a female public high school student. The student (E.H.) played one game against the private academy without hindrance. However, the student removed her protective helmet at the game's finale and revealed she was a female. The opposing school followed up with a letter restricting the student and other females from playing future football games against them due to "guiding biblical principles."

Nevertheless, the female student refuted this, asserting the school had violated her rights and protections under Title IX. The private school maintained that Title IX did not apply to them, which is where the California court intervened. Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah ruled the school was, in fact, subject to Title IX laws due to the PPP loan the school had previously accepted. It is unclear whether Valley Christian Academy's tax-exempt status (and that of other private schools) would make them subject to Title IX now or in the future. Regardless, the court has allowed E.H. to proceed with her claim for Title IX violations on the grounds of the school's acceptance of federal funding in the form of PPP loans.

Title IX Protections for Employees in California

Whether you work for an institution (which accepts federal funding in any form) in a full or part-time capacity, you are protected under Title IX against gender discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault. Title IX is not contingent on your job title or description or the amount of time the institution has employed you. In addition, you are protected from unlawful retaliation by your school, colleagues, and employer when filing a grievance or a Title IX claim. It is possible, however, to encounter adverse responses despite most institutions' efforts to refrain and thwart any illegal retaliation. Your lawyer should be informed of any attempts at retaliation made against you.

Discrimination and harassment at work can be devastating. The effects of mental and emotional distress can last a lifetime, resulting in shattered careers and financial hardship. Given the complexity of school, university, or other institution's policies, the presence of a legal team, and what can feel like administrative red tape, it can be challenging to know what to do first and what steps to take when battling any form of harassment or discrimination. Contact an experienced California discrimination and sexual harassment attorney if you have suffered from gender discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual assault at an educational or other federally funded and Title IX-protected institution.

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