When a student is sexually assaulted on campus, the student can find it difficult to even report the assault. When the student does come forward to school officials, the school has a responsibility to properly investigate the claim and take action.
If the university ignores a sexual assault report or fails to take action, the university may be violating the victim’s Title IX civil rights. The victim can file a complaint with the Department of Education based on Title IX violations. The victim may also be able to file a civil lawsuit in court against the college for civil rights violations.
The remedies available in a Title IX claim may include forcing the university to take action and, in some cases, pay money damages to the victim. Below, our personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about Title 9 claims for sexual assaults on campus:
- 1. Can I file a lawsuit against my university if I was sexually assaulted on campus?
- 2. What is Title IX?
- 3. How do I know if I have a claim under Title 9 for sexual assault on campus?
- 4. Should I file a lawsuit if my college says they are investigating the sexual assault?
- 5. Can I file a lawsuit under Title 9 and remain anonymous?
- 6. What are my damages under a Title 9 lawsuit for sexual assault on campus?
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
1. Can I file a lawsuit against my university if I was sexually assaulted on campus?
A victim of sexual assault may be able to file a Title IX lawsuit against the university and/or university officials if the university violated the individual’s Title IX rights. A lawsuit is separate from a Title IX complaint, which is filed with the federal Department of Education (DOE).
A civil lawsuit can be filed at the same time a complaint is pending. However, the lawsuit may delay the Title IX investigation. Talk to an experienced lawyer about your civil rights claim and when you may want to file a civil lawsuit for damages after a sexual assault on campus.
A sexual assault victim should also be aware he or she can file a sexual assault civil lawsuit against the perpetrator for damages. It is not necessary that the defendant is found guilty by a university investigation or convicted of a crime. If the victim suffered any damages as a result of the assault, the victim can file a lawsuit.
Title IX, or “Title 9,” refers to a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 relates to ending discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX extended civil rights protections to schools and universities. Since that time, Title IX protections have been extended to protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.1
Universities and colleges which accept federal funding or with students who accept federal financial aid have to comply with Title IX regulations. As a result, Title IX applies to most public and private educational institutions in the U.S., with some exceptions for certain programs, including some religious or military training or education.2
Under Title IX, schools are required to provide equal access to education for all students, regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Sexual assault or other forms of sexual harassment and violence fall within prohibited gender discrimination.
Universities and educational institutions are responsible for complying with Title IX. If a student reports sexual harassment or sexual assault, the school may be required to stop and prevent any further harassment. However, schools must also be proactive in preventing sexual violence, investigating reported assaults, and responding to harassment.
When reporting sexual assault or other sexual violence, a student must be notified of their right to notify law enforcement or go beyond any informal complaint process to file a formal complaint.
Colleges and universities are also required to undergo a prompt and impartial investigation for reports of sexual assault. Both parties are to be notified of the outcome and any disciplinary actions taken.
A Title IX complaint can be filed electronically through the regional Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights office where the college or university is located.
A student can use their institutional complaint process to resolve a complaint first. Going through the school’s complaint process is not required.3
After a complaint is filed, the DOE should acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 2 weeks. The student may be contacted by a lawyer with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to discuss the complaint. The OCR will then determine whether or not to open an investigation.
If the OCR does investigate the complaint, the OCR may require the university to make changes to policies or practices. An OCR investigation and complaint may take years to resolve. If the OCR does not decide to open an investigation, the student may decide to file a civil lawsuit.4
A complaint must generally be filed with 180 days of the most recent incidence of assault, harassment, or discrimination. However, that time limit can be extended in some cases for good cause.5
Filing a civil lawsuit may also include violations of state law, which may have a different statute of limitations. There may also be additional time constraints for filing a lawsuit against a public university as a government entity. Talk to an experienced lawyer about the time limits for filing a civil lawsuit for Title IX violations in your state.
A Title IX complaint is based on the student’s civil rights violations guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If the university or college has violated the student’s rights against discrimination based on gender or gender identity, including sexual harassment or sexual violence, the student may be able to file a Title IX complaint.
In most Title IX sexual assault complaints, a student’s rights may have been violated where the university or school officials:
- Were aware a student was the victim of sexual misconduct; and
- Acted with deliberate indifference in addressing sexual misconduct.
“Deliberate Indifference in Addressing Sexual Misconduct”
Examples of “deliberate indifference” in addressing sexual assault on campus could include:
- University failing to provide academic accommodations for the victim;
- University failing to enforce no-contact between the reported perpetrator and victim;
- Professors making disparaging comments about the victim;
- College failing to tell a student about their rights to report the assault to law enforcement;
- University officials failing to follow through on reported assault or dragging out an investigation over an unreasonable time period;
- Failing to provide a student living accommodations; or
- Failing to address continuing harassment or retaliation.
Failing to Address Sexual Assault Complaints Can Create a Heightened Risk of Assault on Campus
University Title IX violations can involve discrimination against students both before and after sexual assaults. When a student reports a sexual assault and the university ignores the problem, the student may have a Title IX violation after the assault.
However, if the school fails to act and the perpetrator assaults another victim, then the school may have violated Title IX even before the assault took place by creating a heightened risk of sexual assault through failing to take action for a known problem.
For example, in a Title IX lawsuit against Baylor University, 10 females students were sexually assaulted by another student. Each victim reported the assault and claims the university acted with deliberate indifference. The effect of repeated indifference had a reported effect of making students not want to come forward and report sexual violence when the school was not doing anything about it.6
The victims claimed the university permitted a “campus condition rife with sexual assault.” The way the university handled the complaints discouraged others from reporting sexual assault. The victims alleged this pattern increased the risk of sexual violence against the victims and other students at the university.7
If a victim reports sexual assault to college officials through a formal process, the school is generally required to investigate the complaint and take any necessary action. Title IX provides students must have an equal opportunity for education that is free from sexual harassment and sexual violence. If the university fails to take action, the student may have a Title IX violation claim.
If the college officials say they are investigating the claim, the school may be properly responding to the reported assault. However, if the school fails to provide timely updates or the “investigation” keeps dragging on or is repeatedly delayed, the university may be displaying “deliberate indifference.”
There may be a number of reasons school officials fail to properly investigate a sexual assault claim. Many schools are worried about their reputation and reports of sexual assault on campus make the school look bad. University officials are very conscious of the school’s image and want to do what they can to protect it, even if it means violating students’ civil rights.
A university may also fail to investigate sexual assault based on the reported perpetrator. The student accused of rape or sexual assault may be the son or daughter of a prominent donor to the university or relative of some university official. Instead of taking the right course of action and investigating a criminal assault, the university may ignore the report and hope the problem just “goes away.”
In many cases, ignoring the reported sexual assault or showing deliberate indifference in investigating the sexual assault does make the issue go away in the eyes of the university. After the school does nothing, the victim may give up because they see no point in fighting back when the school doesn’t care about victim’s rights. This is where a Title IX complaint or civil lawsuit gives the victim more power to see justice done.
Some schools try and handle sexual assault claims through an informal process. The university may even try and make it seem like it is in the victim’s interest not to file a sexual assault claim. However, the university has a responsibility to inform the student of their rights to report the assault to law enforcement, provide accommodations, and file a Title IX claim if the school is not taking action.
If you file a Title IX complaint, you will generally have to provide your name and contact information, which is to remain confidential with the OCR. You may also file an anonymous complaint if someone else files a Title IX complaint on your behalf.
Generally, filing a civil lawsuit is a public record. However, there are some situations where the plaintiff can file a lawsuit anonymously. This may depend on a number of factors, including:
- The age of the plaintiff;
- Risk of retaliation;
- Risk of unfairness to the defendants;
- Nature of the assault; and
- Threat of social harm.
Talk to your lawyer about options for filing a Title IX lawsuit anonymously or what additional protections the victim can be given when filing a civil lawsuit against the university.
Note that under the new 2020 regulations, any hearings can take place virtually, and the accuser and victim can be in separate rooms upon request.8
When filing a civil Title IX lawsuit against a college or university, the plaintiff makes a demand in the complaint. This could be for the school to take certain actions and/or to pay money damages. Generally, the outcome of a Title IX civil lawsuit will include one or more of the following:
- Monetary compensation;
- Change to college policies or procedures; and/or
- Taking action against the perpetrator.
The Supreme Court has held that victims can seek monetary damages for claims of intentional discrimination for Title IX violations.9
The university may also be liable for money damages where a school employee or teacher sexually harassed or assaulted the victim. This may include where the school was aware of the misconduct or even when the school was unaware of the employee’s actions.
A Title IX civil lawsuit generally results in recommendations for action. This may include:
- Changes to the university sexual assault reporting and investigation policies;
- Correcting past, present, and future Title IX violations;
- Sexual assault education programs for students and/or university employees; and/or
- Taking action against perpetrators of sexual assault on campus.
For some victims of sexual assault on campus, the chance to have their voice heard can be the most important outcome of a Title IX violation lawsuit. After having school officials ignore the problem or attempting to silence the victims, a lawsuit will give the victim the chance to hold the school accountable.
A Title IX violation civil lawsuit can also send a message to other victims and encourage them to come forward. It can also show perpetrators that they cannot count on a silent school administration when the victims continue to fight for their civil rights against sexual assault or harassment in pursuing a college education.
For cases involving grade, middle or high schools, we invite you to see our page on lawsuits against teachers and school districts in California. For cases involving campus physicians, see our page of lawsuits against doctors for sexual assault.
Call us for help…
For questions about Title IX violation lawsuits for sexual assault on campus or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
- Title IX of 20 U.S.C.A. Section 1681. See also, The United States Department of Justice, Overview of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C.A. §1681 et seq. (“Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.“).
- Title IX of 20 U.S.C.A. Section 1681(a) (“…under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”)
- U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Offices; Secretary DeVos Takes Historic Action to Strengthen Title IX Protections for All Students, U.S. Department of Education (May 6, 2020)
- How to File a Discrimination Complaint With the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. (“Prior to filing a complaint with OCR against an institution, a potential complainant may want to find out about the institution’s grievance process and use that process to have the complaint resolved. However, a complainant is not required by law to use the institutional grievance process before filing a complaint with OCR.”).
- Same. (“A complaint must be filed within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended by OCR for good cause shown under certain circumstances.”)
- Jane Does 1–10 v. Baylor Univ., Case No. 6:16-CV-173-RP (W.D. Tex. March 7, 2017)
- Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60, 75 (1992).
- Secretary DeVos Takes Historic Action to Strengthen Title IX Protections for All Students, U.S. Department of Education (May 6, 2020); Erica L. Green, DeVos’s Rules Bolster Rights of Students Accused of Sexual Misconduct, New York Times (May 6, 2020).
- Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District, 524 US 274 (1998).