About ED OFFICES


OCR: Office for Civil Rights
Current Section
Sexual Harassment Guidance 1997

SEXUAL HARASSMENT GUIDANCE: HARASSMENT OF STUDENTS1 BY SCHOOL EMPLOYEES, OTHER STUDENTS, OR THIRD PARTIES

SUMMARY OF CONTENTS

Introduction
Applicability of Title IX
Liability of a School for Sexual Harassment
Welcomeness
Severe, Persistent, or Pervasive
Notice
Recipient's Response
Prompt and Equitable Grievance Procedures
First Amendment

INTRODUCTION

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and its implementing regulations, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance2. Sexual harassment of students is a form of prohibited sex discrimination3 under the circumstances described in the Guidance. The following types of conduct constitute sexual harassment:

Quid Pro Quo Harassment--A school employee4 explicitly or implicitly conditions a student's participation in an education program or activity or bases an educational decision on the student's submission to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature5. Quid pro quo harassment is equally unlawful whether the student resists and suffers the threatened harm or submits and thus avoids the threatened harm. Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment--Sexually harassing conduct (which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature)6 by an employee, by another student, or by a third party that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from an education program or activity, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment7.

Schools are required by the Title IX regulations to have grievance procedures through which students can complain of alleged sex discrimination, including sexual harassment8. As outlined in this guidance, grievance procedures also provide schools with an excellent mechanism to be used in their efforts to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs.

Finally, if the alleged harassment involves issues of speech or expression, a school's obligations may be affected by the application of First Amendment principles.

These and other issues are discussed in more detail in the following paragraphs.

APPLICABILITY OF TITLE IX

Title IX applies to all public and private educational institutions that receive Federal funds, including elementary and secondary schools, school districts, proprietary schools, colleges, and universities. The Guidance uses the term "schools" to refer to all those institutions. The "education program or activity" of a school includes all of the school's operations9. This means that Title IX protects students in connection with all of the academic, educational, extra-curricular, athletic, and other programs of the school, whether they take place in the facilities of the school, on a school bus, at a class or training program sponsored by the school at another location, or elsewhere.

It is important to recognize that Title IX's prohibition of sexual harassment does not extend to legitimate nonsexual touching or other nonsexual conduct. For example, a high school athletic coach hugging a student who made a goal or a kindergarten teacher's consoling hug for a child with a skinned knee will not be considered sexual harassment10. Similarly, one student's demonstration of a sports maneuver or technique requiring contact with another student will not be considered sexual harassment. However, in some circumstances, nonsexual conduct may take on sexual connotations and may rise to the level of sexual harassment. For example, a teacher's repeatedly hugging and putting his or her arms around students under inappropriate circumstances could create a hostile environment.

Title IX protects any "person" from sex discrimination; accordingly both male and female students are protected from sexual harassment engaged in by a school's employees, other students, or third parties11. Moreover, Title IX prohibits sexual harassment regardless of the sex of the harasser, i.e., even if the harasser and the person being harassed are members of the same sex12. An example would be a campaign of sexually explicit graffiti directed at a particular girl by other girls13.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation14, sexual harassment directed at gay or lesbian students may constitute sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX. For example, if students heckle another student with comments based on the student's sexual orientation (e.g., "gay students are not welcome at this table in the cafeteria"), but their actions or language do not involve sexual conduct, their actions would not be sexual harassment covered by Title IX. On the other hand, harassing conduct of a sexual nature directed toward gay or lesbian students (e.g., if a male student or a group of male students target a lesbian student for physical sexual advances) may create a sexually hostile environment and, therefore, may be prohibited by Title IX. It should be noted that some State and local laws may prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Also, under certain circumstances, courts may permit redress for harassment on the basis of sexual orientation under other Federal legal authority15.

It is also important to recognize that gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex, but not involving conduct of a sexual nature, may be a form of sex discrimination that violates Title IX if it is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive and directed at individuals because of their sex16. For example, the repeated sabotaging of female graduate students' laboratory experiments by male students in the class could be the basis of a violation of Title IX. Although a comprehensive discussion of gender-based harassment is beyond the scope of this Guidance, in assessing all related circumstances to determine whether a hostile environment exists, incidents of gender-based harassment combined with incidents of sexual harassment could create a hostile environment, even if neither the gender-based harassment alone nor the sexual harassment alone would be sufficient to do so17.

LIABILITY OF A SCHOOL FOR SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Liability of a School for Sexual Harassment by its Employees

A school's liability for sexual harassment by its employees is determined by application of agency principles18, i.e., by principles governing the delegation of authority to or authorization of another person to act on one's behalf.

Accordingly, a school will always be liable for even one instance of quid pro quo harassment by a school employee in a position of authority, such as a teacher or administrator, whether or not it knew, should have known, or approved of the harassment at issue19. Under agency principles, if a teacher or other employee uses the authority he or she is given (e.g., to assign grades) to force a student to submit to sexual demands, the employee "stands in the shoes" of the school and the school will be responsible for the use of its authority by the employee or agent20.

A school will also be liable for hostile environment sexual harassment by its employees21, i.e., for harassment that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the education program or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment if the employee -- (1) acted with apparent authority (i.e., because of the school's conduct, the employee reasonably appears to be acting on behalf of the school, whether or not the employee acted with authority)22; or (2) was aided in carrying out the sexual harassment of students by his or her position of authority with the institution23. For example, a school will be liable if a teacher abuses his or her delegated authority over a student to create a hostile environment, such as if the teacher implicitly threatens to fail a student unless the student responds to his or her sexual advances, even though the teacher fails to carry out the threat24.

As this example illustrates, in many cases the line between quid pro quo and hostile environment discrimination will be blurred, and the employee's conduct may constitute both types of harassment. However, what is important is that the school is liable for that conduct under application of agency principles, regardless of whether it is labeled as quid pro quo or hostile environment harassment.

Whether other employees, such as a janitor or cafeteria worker, are in positions of authority in relation to students -- or whether it would be reasonable for the student to believe the employees are, even if the employees are not (i.e., apparent authority) -- will depend on factors such as the authority actually given to the employee25 (e.g., in some elementary schools, a cafeteria worker may have authority to impose discipline) and the age of the student. For example, in some cases the younger a student is, the more likely it is that he or she will consider any adult employee to be in a position of authority.

Even in situations not involving (i) quid pro quo harassment, (ii) creation of a hostile environment through an employee's apparent authority, or (iii) creation of a hostile environment in which the employee is aided in carrying out the sexual harassment by his or her position of authority, a school will be liable for sexual harassment of its students by its employees under the same standards applicable to peer and third party hostile environment sexual harassment, as discussed in the next section. That is, if the school fails to take immediate and appropriate steps to remedy known harassment, then the school will be liable under Title IX26. It is important to emphasize that under this standard of liability the school can avoid violating Title IX if it takes immediate and appropriate action upon notice of the harassment.

Liability of a School for Peer or Third Party Harassment27

In contrast to the variety of situations in which a school may be liable for sexual harassment by its employees, a school will be liable under Title IX if its students sexually harass other students if (i) a hostile environment exists in the school's programs or activities, (ii) the school knows or should have known of the harassment, and (iii) the school fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action28. (Each of these factors is discussed in detail in subsequent sections of the Guidance.) Under these circumstances, a school's failure to respond to the existence of a hostile environment within its own programs or activities permits an atmosphere of sexual discrimination to permeate the educational program and results in discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Conversely, if, upon notice of hostile environment harassment, a school takes immediate and appropriate steps to remedy the hostile environment, the school has avoided violating Title IX. Thus, Title IX does not make a school responsible for the actions of harassing students, but rather for its own discrimination in failing to remedy it once the school has notice.

Sexually harassing conduct of third parties, who are not themselves employees or students at the school (e.g., a visiting speaker or members of a visiting athletic club) can also cause a sexually hostile environment in school programs or activities. For the same reason that a school will be liable under Title IX for a hostile environment caused by its students, a school will be liable if third parties sexually harass its students if (i) a hostile environment exists in the school's programs or activities, (ii) the school knows or should have known of the harassment, and (iii) the school fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action29. However, the type of appropriate steps the school should take will differ depending on the level of control the school has over the third party harasser30. This issue is discussed in "Recipient's Response."

Effect of Grievance Procedures on Liability

Schools are required by the Title IX regulations to adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of sex discrimination complaints, including complaints of sexual harassment, and to disseminate a policy against sex discrimination31. (These issues are discussed in the section on "Prompt and Equitable Grievance Procedures.") These procedures provide a school with a mechanism for discovering sexual harassment as early as possible and for effectively correcting problems, as required by Title IX. By having a strong policy against sex discrimination and accessible, effective, and fairly applied grievance procedures, a school is telling its students that it does not tolerate sexual harassment and that students can report it without fear of adverse consequences.

Accordingly, in the absence of effective policies and grievance procedures, if the alleged harassment was sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to create a hostile environment, a school will be in violation of Title IX because of the existence of a hostile environment, even if the school was not aware of the harassment and thus failed to remedy it32. This is because, without a policy and procedure, a student does not know either of the school's interest in preventing this form of discrimination or how to report harassment so that it can be remedied. Moreover, under the agency principles previously discussed, a school's failure to implement effective policies and procedures against discrimination may create apparent authority for school employees to harass students33.

OCR Case Resolution

If OCR is asked to investigate or otherwise resolve incidents of sexual harassment of students, including incidents caused by employees, other students, or third parties, OCR will consider whether--(1) the school has a policy prohibiting sex discrimination under Title IX and effective Title IX grievance procedures34; (2) the school appropriately investigated or otherwise responded to allegations of sexual harassment; and (3) the school has taken immediate and appropriate corrective action responsive to quid pro quo or hostile environment harassment. (Issues related to appropriate investigative and corrective actions are discussed in detail in the section on "Recipient's Response.") If the school has taken each of these steps, OCR will consider the case against the school resolved and take no further action other than monitoring compliance with any agreement between the school and OCR. This is true in cases in which the school was in violation of Title IX, as well as those in which there has been no violation of Title IX35.

WELCOMENESS

In order to be actionable as harassment, sexual conduct must be unwelcome. Conduct is unwelcome if the student did not request or invite it and "regarded the conduct as undesirable or offensive36." Acquiescence in the conduct or the failure to complain does not always mean that the conduct was welcome37. For example, a student may decide not to resist sexual advances of another student or may not file a complaint out of fear. In addition, a student may not object to a pattern of sexually demeaning comments directed at him or her by a group of students out of a concern that objections might cause the harassers to make more comments. The fact that a student may have accepted the conduct does not mean that he or she welcomed it38. Also, the fact that a student willingly participated in conduct on one occasion does not prevent him or her from indicating that the same conduct has become unwelcome on a subsequent occasion. On the other hand, if a student actively participates in sexual banter and discussions and gives no indication that he or she objects, then the evidence generally will not support a conclusion that the conduct was unwelcome39.

If younger children are involved, it may be necessary to determine the degree to which they are able to recognize that certain sexual conduct is conduct to which they can or should reasonably object and the degree to which they can articulate an objection. Accordingly, OCR will consider the age of the student, the nature of the conduct involved, and other relevant factors in determining whether a student had the capacity to welcome sexual conduct.

Schools should be particularly concerned about the issue of welcomeness if the harasser is in a position of authority. For instance, because students may be encouraged to believe that a teacher has absolute authority over the operation of his or her classroom, a student may not object to a teacher's sexually harassing comments during class; however, this does not necessarily mean that the conduct was welcome. Instead, the student may believe that any objections would be ineffective in stopping the harassment or may fear that by making objections he or she will be singled out for harassing comments or other retaliati

on.

In addition, OCR must consider particular issues of welcomeness if the alleged harassment relates to alleged "consensual" sexual relationships between a school's adult employees and its students. If elementary students are involved, welcomeness will not be an issue: OCR will never view sexual conduct between an adult school employee and an elementary school student as consensual. In cases involving secondary students, there will be a strong presumption that sexual conduct between an adult school employee and a student is not consensual. In cases involving older secondary students, subject to the presumption40, OCR will consider a number of factors in determining whether a school employee's sexual advances or other sexual conduct could be considered welcome41. In addition, OCR will consider these factors in all cases involving postsecondary students in making those determinations42. The factors include:

  • The nature of the conduct and the relationship of the school employee to the student, including the degree of influence (which could, at least in part, be affected by the student's age), authority, or control the employee has over the student.
  • Whether the student was legally or practically unable to consent to the sexual conduct in question. For example, a student's age could affect his or her ability to do so. Similarly, certain types of disabilities could affect a student's ability to do so.

If there is a dispute about whether harassment occurred or whether it was welcome -- in a case in which it is appropriate to consider whether the conduct could be welcome -- determinations should be made based on the totality of the circumstances. The following types of information may be helpful in resolving the dispute:

  • Statements by any witnesses to the alleged incident.
  • Evidence about the relative credibility of the allegedly harassed student and the alleged harasser. For example, the level of detail and consistency of each person's account should be compared in an attempt to determine who is telling the truth. Another way to assess credibility is to see if corroborative evidence is lacking where it should logically exist. However, the absence of witnesses may indicate only the unwillingness of others to step forward, perhaps due to fear of the harasser or a desire not to get involved.
  • Evidence that the alleged harasser has been found to have harassed others may support the credibility of the student claiming the harassment; conversely, the student's claim will be weakened if he or she has been found to have made false allegations against other individuals.
  • Evidence of the allegedly harassed student's reaction or behavior after the alleged harassment. For example, were there witnesses who saw the student immediately after the alleged incident who say that the student appeared to be upset? However, it is important to note that some students may respond to harassment in ways that do not manifest themselves right away, but may surface several days or weeks after the harassment. For example, a student may initially show no signs of having been harassed, but several weeks after the harassment, there may be significant changes in the student's behavior, including difficulty concentrating on academic work, symptoms of depression, and a desire to avoid certain individuals and places at school.
  • Evidence about whether the student claiming harassment filed a complaint or took other action to protest the conduct soon after the alleged incident occurred. However, failure to immediately complain may merely reflect a fear of retaliation or a fear that the complainant may not be believed rather than that the alleged harassment did not occur.
  • Other contemporaneous evidence. For example, did the student claiming harassment write about the conduct, and his or her reaction to it, soon after it occurred (e.g., in a diary or letter)? Did the student tell others (friends, parents) about the conduct (and his or her reaction to it) soon after it occurred?

SEVERE, PERSISTENT, OR PERVASIVE

Hostile environment sexual harassment of a student or students by other students, employees, or third parties is created if conduct of a sexual nature is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the education program or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment. Thus, conduct that is sufficiently severe, but not persistent or pervasive, can result in hostile environment sexual harassment.

In deciding whether conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive, the conduct should be considered from both a subjective43 and objective44 perspective. In making this determination, all relevant circumstances should be considered45:

  • The degree to which the conduct affected one or more students' education. For a hostile environment to exist, the conduct must have limited the ability of a student to participate in or benefit from his or her education or altered the conditions of the student's educational environment46.

.. Many hostile environment cases involve tangible or obvious injuries47. For example, a student's grades may go down or the student may be forced to withdraw from school because of the harassing behavior48. A student may also suffer physical injuries and mental or emotional distress49.

.. However, a hostile environment may exist even if there is no tangible injury to the student50. For example, a student may have been able to keep up his or her grades and continue to attend school even though it was more difficult for him or her to do so because of the harassing behavior51. A student may be able to remain on a sports team, despite feeling humiliated or angered by harassment that creates a hostile environment52. Harassing conduct in these examples alters the student's educational environment on the basis of sex.

.. A hostile environment can occur even if the harassment is not targeted specifically at the individual complainant53. For example, if a student or group of students regularly directs sexual comments toward a particular student, a hostile environment may be created not only for the targeted student, but also for others who witness the conduct. Similarly, if a middle school teacher directs sexual comments toward a particular student, a hostile environment may be created for the targeted student and for the students who witness the conduct.

  • The type, frequency, and duration of the conduct. In most cases, a hostile environment will exist if there is a pattern or practice of harassment or if the harassment is sustained and nontrivial54. For instance, if a young woman is taunted by one or more young men about her breasts or genital area or both, OCR may find that a hostile environment has been created, particularly if the conduct has gone on for some time, takes place throughout the school, or if the taunts are made by a number of students. The more severe the conduct, the less the need to show a repetitive series of incidents; this is particularly true if the harassment is physical. For instance, if the conduct is more severe, e.g., attempts to grab a female student's breasts, genital area, or buttocks, it need not be as persistent or pervasive in order to create a hostile environment. Indeed, a single or isolated incident of sexual harassment may, if sufficiently severe, create a hostile environment55. On the other hand, conduct that is not severe, persistent, or pervasive will not create a hostile environment; e.g., a comment by one student to another student that she has a nice figure. Indeed, depending on the circumstances, this may not even be conduct of a sexual nature56. Similarly, because students date one another, a request for a date or a gift of flowers, even if unwelcome, would not create a hostile environment. However, there may be circumstances in which repeated, unwelcome requests for dates or similar conduct could create a hostile environment. For example, a person may request dates in an intimidating or threatening manner.
  • The identity of and relationship between the alleged harasser and the subject or subjects of the harassment. A factor to be considered, especially in cases involving allegations of sexual harassment of a student by a school employee, is the identity of and relationship between the alleged harasser and the subject or subjects of the harassment. For example, due to the power that a professor or teacher has over a student, sexually based conduct by that person toward a student is more likely to create a hostile environment than similar conduct by another student57 .
  • The number of individuals involved. Sexual harassment may be committed by an individual or a group. In some cases, verbal comments or other conduct from one person might not be sufficient to create a hostile environment, but could be if done by a group. Similarly, while harassment can be directed toward an individual or a group58, the effect of the conduct toward a group may vary, depending on the type of conduct and the context. For certain types of conduct, there may be "safety in numbers." For example, following an individual student and making sexual taunts to him or her may be very intimidating to that student but, in certain circumstances, less so to a group of students. On the other hand, persistent unwelcome sexual conduct still may create a hostile environment if directed toward a group.
  • The age and sex of the alleged harasser and the subject or subjects of the harassment. For example, in the case of younger students, sexually harassing conduct is more likely to be intimidating if coming from an older student59.
  • The size of the school, location of the incidents, and context in which they occurred. Depending on the circumstances of a particular case, fewer incidents may have a greater effect at a small college than at a large university campus. Harassing conduct occurring on a school bus may be more intimidating than similar conduct on a school playground because the restricted area makes it impossible for the students to avoid their harassers60. Harassing conduct in a personal or secluded area such as a dormitory room or residence hall can also have a greater effect (e.g., be seen as more threatening) than would similar conduct in a more public area. On the other hand, harassing conduct in a public place may be more humiliating. Each incident must be judged individually.
  • Other incidents at the school. A series of instances at the school, not involving the same students, could -- taken together -- create a hostile environment, even if each by itself would not be sufficient61.
  • Incidents of gender-based, but non-sexual, harassment. Acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex, but not involving sexual activity or language, can be combined with incidents of sexual harassment to determine if the incidents of sexual harassment are sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to create a sexually hostile environment62.

NOTICE

A school will be in violation of Title IX if the school "has notice" of a sexually hostile environment and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action63. A school has notice if it actually "knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known" about the harassment64. In addition, as long as an agent or responsible employee of the school received notice65, the school has notice

.

A school can receive notice in many different ways. A student may have filed a grievance or complained to a teacher about fellow students sexually harassing him or her. A student, parent, or other individual may have contacted other appropriate personnel, such as a principal, campus security, bus driver, teacher, an affirmative action officer, or staff in the office of student affairs. An agent or responsible employee of the school may have witnessed the harassment. The school may receive notice in an indirect manner, from sources such as a member of the school staff, a member of the educational or local community, or the media. The school also may have received notice from flyers about the incident or incidents posted around the school66.

Constructive notice exists if the school "should have" known about the harassment -- if the school would have found out about the harassment through a "reasonably diligent inquiry67." For example, if a school knows of some incidents of harassment, there may be situations in which it will be charged with notice of others -- if the known incidents should have triggered an investigation that would have led to a discovery of the additional incidents. In other cases, the pervasiveness of the harassment may be enough to conclude that the school should have known of the hostile environment -- if the harassment is widespread, openly practiced, or well-known to students and staff (such as sexual harassment occurring in hallways, graffiti in public areas, or harassment occurring during recess under a teacher's supervision)68.

In addition, if a school otherwise has actual or constructive notice of a hostile environment and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action, a school has violated Title IX even if the student fails to use the school's existing grievance procedures.

RECIPIENT'S RESPONSE

Once a school has notice of possible sexual harassment of students -- whether carried out by employees, other students, or third parties -- it should take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred and take steps reasonably calculated to end any harassment, eliminate a hostile environment if one has been created, and prevent harassment from occurring again. These steps are the school's responsibility whether or not the student who was harassed makes a complaint or otherwise asks the school to take action69. As described in the next section, in appropriate circumstances the school will also be responsible for taking steps to remedy the effects of the harassment on the individual student or students who were harassed. What constitutes a reasonable response to information about possible sexual harassment will differ depending upon the circumstances.

Response to Student or Parent Reports of Harassment;
Response to Direct Observation by a Responsible Employee or
Agent of Harassment

If a student or the parent of an elementary or secondary student provides information or complains about sexual harassment of the student, the school should initially discuss what actions the student or parent is seeking in response to the harassment. The school should explain the avenues for informal and formal action, including a description of the grievance procedure that is available for sexual harassment complaints and an explanation of how the procedure works. If a responsible school employee or agent has directly observed sexual harassment of a student, the school should contact the student who was harassed (or the parent, depending upon the age of the student)70, explain that the school is responsible for taking steps to correct the harassment, and provide the same information described in the previous sentence.

Regardless of whether the student who was harassed, or his or her parent, decides to file a formal complaint or otherwise request action on the student's behalf (including in cases involving direct observation by a responsible school employee or agent), the school must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation. The specific steps in an investigation will vary depending upon the nature of the allegations, the source of the complaint, the age of the student or students involved, the size and administrative structure of the school, and other factors. However, in all cases the inquiry must be prompt, thorough, and impartial. (Requests by the student who was harassed for confidentiality or for no action to be taken, responding to notice of harassment from other sources, and the components of a prompt and equitable grievance procedure are discussed in subsequent sections of the Guidance.)

It may be appropriate for a school to take interim measures during the investigation of a complaint. For instance, if a student alleges that he or she has been sexually assaulted by another student, the school may decide to immediately place the students in separate classes or in different housing arrangements on a campus, pending the results of the school's investigation. Similarly, if the alleged harasser is a teacher, allowing the student to transfer to a different class may be appropriate. In cases involving potential criminal conduct, school personnel should determine whether appropriate law enforcement authorities should be notified. In all cases, schools should make every effort to prevent public disclosure of the names of all parties involved, except to the extent necessary to carry out an investigation.

If a school determines that sexual harassment has occurred, it should take reasonable, timely, age-appropriate, and effective corrective action, including steps tailored to the specific situation71. Appropriate steps should be taken to end the harassment. For example, school personnel may need to counsel, warn, or take disciplinary action against the harasser, based on the severity of the harassment or any record of prior incidents or both72. A series of escalating consequences may be necessary if the initial steps are ineffective in stopping the harassment73. In some cases, it may be appropriate to further separate the harassed student and the harasser, e.g., by changing housing arrangements74 or directing the harasser to have no further contact with the harassed student. Responsive measures of this type should be designed to minimize, as much as possible, the burden on the student who was harassed. If the alleged harasser is not a student or employee of the recipient, OCR will consider the level of control the school has over the harasser in determining what response would be appropriate75.

Steps also should be taken to eliminate any hostile environment that has been created. For example, if a female student has been subjected to harassment by a group of other students in a class, the school may need to deliver special training or other interventions for that class to repair the educational environment. If the school offers the student the option of withdrawing from a class in which a hostile environment occurred, the school should assist the student in making program or schedule changes and ensure that none of the changes adversely affect the student's academic record. Other measures may include, if appropriate, directing a harasser to apologize to the harassed student. If a hostile environment has affected an entire school or campus, an effective response may need to include dissemination of information, the issuance of new policy statements, or other steps that are designed to clearly communicate the message that the school does not tolerate harassment and will be responsive to any student who reports that conduct.

In some situations, a school may be required to provide other services to the student who was harassed if necessary to address the effects of the harassment on that student76. For example, if an instructor gives a student a low grade because the student failed to respond to his sexual advances, this constitutes quid pro quo harassment for which the school is liable under Title IX regardless of whether it knew of the harassment. Thus, the school may be required to make arrangements for an independent reassessment of the student's work, if feasible, and change the grade accordingly; make arrangements for the student to take the course again with a different instructor; provide tutoring; make tuition adjustments; offer reimbursement for professional counseling; or take other measures that are appropriate to the circumstances. As another example, if a school delays responding or responds inappropriately to information about harassment, such as a case in which the school ignores complaints by a student that he or she is being sexually harassed by a classmate, the school will be required to remedy the effects of the harassment that could have been prevented had the school responded promptly and appropriately.

Finally, a school should take steps to prevent any further harassment77 and to prevent any retaliation against the student who made the complaint (or was the subject of the harassment), against a person who filed a complaint on behalf of a student, or against those who provided information as witnesses78. At a minimum, this includes making sure that the harassed students and their parents know how to report any subsequent problems and making follow-up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or any retaliation. To prevent recurrences, counseling for the harasser may be appropriate to ensure that he or she understands what constitutes harassment and the effects it can have. In addition, depending on how widespread the harassment was and whether there have been any prior incidents, the school may need to provide training for the larger school community to ensure that students, parents, and teachers can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond79.

Requests by the Harassed Student for Confidentiality

The scope of a reasonable response also may depend upon whether a student, or parent of a minor student, reporting harassment asks that the student's name not be disclosed to the harasser or that nothing be done about the alleged harassment. In all cases a school should discuss confidentiality standards and concerns with the complainant initially. The school should inform the student that the request may limit the school's ability to respond. The school also should tell the student that Title IX prohibits retaliation and that, if he or she is afraid of reprisals from the alleged harasser, the school will take steps to try to prevent retaliation and will take strong responsive actions if retaliation occurs. If the student continues to ask that his or her name not be revealed, the school should take all reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the complaint consistent with that request as long as doing so does not preclude the school from responding effectively to the harassment and preventing harassment of other students. Thus, for example, a reasonable response would not require disciplinary action against an alleged harasser if a student, who was the only student harassed, insists that his or her name not be revealed, and the alleged harasser could not respond to the charges of sexual harassment without that information.

At the same time, a school should evaluate the confidentiality request in the context of its responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students. The factors a school may consider in this regard include the seriousness of the alleged harassment, the age of the student harassed, whether there have been other complaints or reports of harassment against the alleged harasser, and the rights of the accused individual to receive information about the accuser and the allegations if a formal proceeding with sanctions may result80.

Although a student's request to have his or her name withheld may limit the school's ability to respond fully to an individual complaint of harassment, other means may be available to address the harassment. There are steps a recipient can take to limit the effects of the alleged harassment and prevent its recurrence without initiating formal action against the alleged harasser or revealing the identity of the complainant. Examples include conducting sexual harassment training for the school site or academic department where the problem occurred, taking a student survey concerning any problems with harassment, or implementing other systemic measures at the site or department where the alleged harassment has occurred.

In addition, by investigating the complaint to the extent possible -- including by reporting it to the Title IX coordinator or other responsible school employee designated pursuant to Title IX -- the school may learn about or be able to confirm a pattern of harassment based on claims by different students that they were harassed by the same individual. In some situations there may be prior reports by former students who now might be willing to come forward and be identified, thus providing a basis for further corrective action. In instances affecting a number of students (for example, a report from a student that an instructor has repeatedly made sexually explicit remarks about his or her personal life in front of an entire class), an individual can be put on notice of allegations of harassing behavior and counseled appropriately without revealing, even indirectly, the identity of the student who notified the school. Those steps can be very effective in preventing further harassment.

Response to Other Types of Notice

The previous two sections deal with situations in which a student or parent of a student who was harassed reports or complains of harassment or in which a responsible school employee or agent directly observes sexual harassment of a student. If a school learns of harassment through other means, for example if information about harassment is received from a third party (such as from a witness to an incident or an anonymous letter or telephone call), different factors will affect the school's response. These factors include the source and nature of the information; the seriousness of the alleged incident; the specificity of the information; the objectivity and credibility of the source of the report; whether any individuals can be identified who were subjected to the alleged harassment; and whether those individuals want to pursue the matter. If, based on these factors, it is reasonable for the school to investigate and it can confirm the allegations, the considerations described in the previous sections concerning interim measures and appropriate responsive action will apply.

For example, if a parent visiting a school observes a student repeatedly harassing a group of female students and reports this to school officials, school personnel can speak with the female students to confirm whether that conduct has occurred and whether they view it as unwelcome. If the school determines that the conduct created a hostile environment, it can take reasonable, age-appropriate steps to address the situation. If, on the other hand, the students in this example were to ask that their names not be disclosed or indicate that they do not want to pursue the matter, the considerations described in the previous section related to requests for confidentiality will shape the school's response.

In a contrasting example, a student newspaper at a large university may print an anonymous letter claiming that a professor is sexually harassing students in class on a daily basis, but the letter provides no clue as to the identity of the professor or the department in which the conduct is allegedly taking place. Due to the anonymous source and lack of specificity of the information, a school would not reasonably be able to investigate and confirm these allegations. However, in response to the anonymous letter, the school could submit a letter or article to the newspaper reiterating its policy against sexual harassment, encouraging persons who believe that they have been sexually harassed to come forward, and explaining how its grievance procedures work.

Prevention

A policy specifically prohibiting sexual harassment and separate grievance procedures for violations of that policy can help ensure that all students and employees understand the nature of sexual harassment and that the school will not tolerate it. Indeed, they might even bring conduct of a sexual nature to the school's attention so that the school can address it before it becomes sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to create a hostile environment. Further, training for administrators, teachers, and staff and age-appropriate classroom information for students can help to ensure that they understand what types of conduct can cause sexual harassment and that they know how to respond.

PROMPT AND EQUITABLE GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES

Schools are required by Title IX to adopt and publish a policy against sex discrimination and grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of discrimination on the basis of sex81. Accordingly, regardless of whether harassment occurred, a school violates this requirement of Title IX if it does not have those procedures and policy in place82.

A school's sex discrimination grievance procedures must apply to complaints of sex discrimination in the school's education programs and activities filed by students against school employees, other students, or third parties83. Title IX does not require a school to adopt a policy specifically prohibiting sexual harassment or to provide separate grievance procedures for sexual harassment complaints. However, its nondiscrimination policy and grievance procedures for handling discrimination complaints must provide effective means for preventing and responding to sexual harassment. Thus, if, because of the lack of a policy or procedure specifically addressing sexual harassment, students are unaware of what kind of conduct constitutes sexual harassment or that that conduct is prohibited sex discrimination, a school's general policy and procedures relating to sex discrimination complaints will not be considered effective84.

OCR has identified a number of elements in evaluating whether a school's grievance procedures are prompt and equitable, including whether the procedures provide for--

  1. notice to students, parents of elementary and secondary students, and employees of the procedure, including where complaints may be filed;
  2. application of the procedure to complaints alleging harassment carried out by employees, other students, or third parties;
  3. adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence;
  4. designated and reasonably prompt timeframes for the major stages of the complaint process;
  5. notice to the parties of the outcome of the complaint85; and
  6. an assurance that the school will take steps to prevent recurrence of any harassment and to correct its discriminatory effects on the complainant and others, if appropriate86.

Many schools also provide an opportunity to appeal the findings or remedy or both. In addition, because retaliation is prohibited by Title IX, schools may want to include a provision in their procedures prohibiting retaliation against any individual who files a complaint or participates in a harassment inquiry.

Procedures adopted by schools will vary considerably in detail, specificity, and components, reflecting differences in audiences, school sizes and administrative structures, State or local legal requirements, and past experience. In addition, whether complaint resolutions are timely will vary depending on the complexity of the investigation and the severity and extent of the harassment. During the investigation it is a good practice for schools to inform students who have alleged harassment about the status of the investigation on a periodic basis.

A grievance procedure applicable to sexual harassment complaints cannot be prompt or equitable unless students know it exists, how it works, and how to file a complaint. Thus, the procedures should be written in language appropriate to the age of the school's students, easily understood, and widely disseminated. Distributing the procedures to administrators, or including them in the school's administrative or policy manual, may not by itself be an effective way of providing notice, as these publications are usually not widely circulated to and understood by all members of the school community. Many schools ensure adequate notice to students by having copies of the procedures available at various locations throughout the school or campus; publishing the procedures as a separate document; including a summary of the procedures in major publications issued by the school, such as handbooks and catalogs for students, parents of elementary and secondary students, faculty, and staff; and identifying individuals who can explain how the procedures work.

A school must designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out its Title IX responsibilities87. The school must notify all of its students and employees of the name, office address, and telephone number of the employee or employees designated88. Because it is possible that an employee designated to handle Title IX complaints may him or herself engage in harassment, a school may want to designate more than one employee to be responsible for handling complaints in order to ensure that students have an effective means of reporting harassment89. While a school may choose to have a number of employees responsible for Title IX matters, it is also advisable to give one official responsibility for overall coordination and oversight of all sexual harassment complaints to ensure consistent practices and standards in handling complaints. Coordination of recordkeeping (for instance, in a confidential log maintained by the Title IX coordinator) will also ensure that the school can and will resolve recurring problems and identify students or employees who have multiple complaints filed against them90. Finally, the school must make sure that all designated employees have adequate training as to what conduct constitutes sexual harassment and are able to explain how the grievance procedure operates91.

Grievance procedures may include informal mechanisms for resolving sexual harassment complaints to be used if the parties agree to do so92. OCR has frequently advised schools, however, that it is not appropriate for a student who is complaining of harassment to be required to work out the problem directly with the individual alleged to be harassing him or her, and certainly not without appropriate involvement by the school (e.g., participation by a counselor, trained mediator, or, if appropriate, a teacher or administrator). In addition, the complainant must be notified of the right to end the informal process at any time and begin the formal stage of the complaint process. In some cases, such as alleged sexual assaults, mediation will not be appropriate even on a voluntary basis. Title IX also permits the use of a student disciplinary procedure not designed specifically for Title IX grievances to resolve sex discrimination complaints, as long as the procedure meets the requirement of affording a complainant a "prompt and equitable" resolution of the complaint.

In some instances, a complainant may allege harassing conduct that constitutes both sex discrimination and possible criminal conduct. Police investigations or reports may be useful in terms of fact-gathering. However, because legal standards for criminal conduct are different, police investigations or reports may not be determinative of whether harassment occurred under Title IX and do not relieve the school of its duty to respond promptly93. Similarly, schools are cautioned about using the results of insurance company investigations of sexual harassment allegations. The purpose of an insurance investigation is to assess liability under the insurance policy, and the applicable standards may well be different from those under Title IX. In addition, a school is not relieved of its responsibility to respond to a sexual harassment complaint filed under its grievance procedure by the fact that a complaint has been filed with OCR94.

Finally, a public school's employees may have certain due process rights under the United States Constitution. The Constitution also guarantees due process to students in public and State-supported schools who are accused of certain types of infractions. The rights established under Title IX must be interpreted consistently with any federally guaranteed rights involved in a complaint proceeding. In both public and private schools, additional or separate rights may be created for employees or students by State law, institutional regulations and policies, such as faculty or student handbooks, and collective bargaining agreements. Schools should be aware of these rights and their legal responsibilities to those accused of harassment. Indeed, procedures that ensure the Title IX rights of the complainant while at the same time according due process to both parties involved will lead to sound and supportable decisions. Schools should ensure that steps to accord due process rights do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the protections provided by Title IX to the complainant.

FIRST AMENDMENT

In cases of alleged harassment, the protections of the First Amendment must be considered if issues of speech or expression are involved95. Free speech rights apply in the classroom (e.g., classroom lectures and discussions)96 and in all other education programs and activities of public schools (e.g., public meetings and speakers on campus; campus debates, school plays and other cultural events97; and student newspapers, journals and other publications98). In addition, First Amendment rights apply to the speech of students and teachers99.

Title IX is intended to protect students from sex discrimination, not to regulate the content of speech. OCR recognizes that the offensiveness of particular expression as perceived by some students, standing alone, is not a legally sufficient basis to establish a sexually hostile environment under Title IX100. In order to establish a violation of Title IX, the harassment must be sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the education program or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment101.

Moreover, in regulating the conduct of its students and its faculty to prevent or redress discrimination prohibited by Title IX (e.g., in responding to harassment that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive as to create a hostile environment), a school must formulate, interpret, and apply its rules so as to protect academic freedom and free speech rights. For instance, while the First Amendment may prohibit a school from restricting the right of students to express opinions about one sex that may be considered derogatory, the school can take steps to denounce those opinions and ensure that competing views are heard. The age of the students involved and the location or forum may affect how the school can respond consistent with the First Amendment102. As an example of the application of free speech rights to allegations of sexual harassment, consider the followin

g:

Example 1: In a college level creative writing class, a professor's required reading list includes excerpts from literary classics that contain descriptions of explicit sexual conduct, including scenes that depict women in submissive and demeaning roles. The professor also assigns students to write their own materials, which are read in class. Some of the student essays contain sexually derogatory themes about women. Several female students complain to the Dean of Students that the materials and related classroom discussion have created a sexually hostile environment for women in the class. What must the school do in response?

Answer: Academic discourse in this example is protected by the First Amendment even if it is offensive to individuals. Thus, Title IX would not require the school to discipline the professor or to censor the reading list or related class discussion.

Example 2: A group of male students repeatedly targets a female student for harassment during the bus ride home from school, including making explicit sexual comments about her body, passing around drawings that depict her engaging in sexual conduct, and, on several occasions, attempting to follow her home off the bus. The female student and her parents complain to the principal that the male students' conduct has created a hostile environment for girls on the bus and that they fear for their daughter's safety. What must the school do in response?

Answer: Threatening and intimidating actions targeted at a particular student or group of students, even though they contain elements of speech, are not protected by the First Amendment. The school must take reasonable and appropriate actions against the students, including disciplinary action if necessary, to remedy the hostile environment and prevent future harassment.

FOOTNOTES

  1. This Guidance does not address sexual harassment of employees, although that conduct may be prohibited by Title IX. If employees bring sexual harassment claims under Title IX, case law applicable to sexual harassment in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a), and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines will apply. See 28 CFR 42.604 (Procedures for Complaints of Employment Discrimination Filed Against Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance).
  2. 20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq., as amended; 34 CFR 106.1, 106.31(a)(b). In analyzing sexual harassment claims, the Department also applies, as appropriate to the educational context, many of the legal principles applicable to sexual harassment in the workplace developed under Title VII. See Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60, 75 (1992)(applying Title VII principles in determining that a student was entitled to protection from sexual harassment by a teacher in school under Title IX); Kinman v. Omaha Public School Dist., 94 F.3d 463, 469 (8th Cir. 1996) (applying Title VII principles in determining that a student was entitled to protection from hostile environment sexual harassment by a teacher in school under Title IX); Doe v. Claiborne County, 1996 WL 734583, *19 (6th Cir. December 26, 1996) (holding in a case involving allegations of hostile environment sexual harassment of a student by a teacher that Title VII agency principles apply to sexual harassment cases brought under Title IX); Murray v. New York University College of Dentistry, 57 F.3d 243, 249 (2nd Cir. 1995) (while finding notice lacking, court applied Title VII principles in assuming a Title IX cause of action for sexual harassment of a medical student by a patient visiting the school clinic); Doe v. Petaluma City School Dist., 830 F.Supp. 1560, 1571-72 (N.D. Cal. 1993) (applying Title VII principles in determining that if school had notice of peer sexual harassment and failed to take appropriate corrective action, school liable under Title IX), rev'd in part on other grounds, 54 F.3d 1447 (9th Cir. 1995); Kadiki v. Virginia Commonwealth University, 892 F.Supp. 746, 749 (E.D. Va. 1995) (in Title IX case involving allegations of both quid pro quo and hostile environment sexual harassment, court indicated that Title VII standards should be applied).

    In addition, many of the principles applicable to racial harassment under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq., and Title VII also apply to sexual harassment under Title IX. Indeed, Title IX was modeled on Title VI, Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 694 (1979). For information on racial harassment, see the Department's Notice of Investigative Guidance for Racial Harassment, 59 FR 11448 (1994).

  3. Consistent with Supreme Court decisions, see Franklin, 503 U.S. at 75 (expressly ruling that the sexual harassment of a student by a teacher violates Title IX), the Department has interpreted Title IX as prohibiting sexual harassment for over a decade. Kinman, 94 F.3d at 469 (Title IX prohibits hostile environment sexual harassment of student by teacher). Moreover, it has been OCR's longstanding practice to apply Title IX to peer harassment. See also Bosley v. Kearney R-1 School Dist., 904 F.Supp. 1006, 1023 (W.D. Mo. 1995); Doe v. Petaluma City School Dist., Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration Granted, 1996 WL 432298 (N.D. Cal. July 22, 1996) (reaffirming Title IX liability for peer harassment if the school knows of the hostile environment but fails to take remedial action); Burrow v. Postville Community School District, 929 F.Supp. 1193, 1205 (N.D. Iowa 1996) (student may bring Title IX cause of action against a school for its knowing failure to take appropriate remedial action in response to the hostile environment created by students at the school); Oona R.-S. v. Santa Rosa City Schools, 890 F.Supp. 1452 (N.D. Cal. 1995); Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Education, 74 F.3d 1186, 1193 (11th Cir. 1996) (as Title VII is violated if a sexually hostile working environment is created by co-workers and tolerated by the employer, Title IX is violated if a sexually hostile educational environment is created by a fellow student or students and the supervising authorities knowingly failed to act to eliminate the harassment), vacated, reh'g granted, 91 F.3d 1418 (11th Cir. 1996); cf. Murray, 57 F.3d at 249 (while court finds no notice to school, assumes a Title IX cause of action for sexual harassment of a medical student by a patient visiting school clinic). But see note 27. Of course, OCR has interpreted Title IX as prohibiting quid pro quo harassment of students for many years. See Alexander v. Yale University, 459 F.Supp. 1, 4 (D.Conn. 1977), aff'd, 631 F.2d 178 (2nd Cir. 1980).
  4. The term "employee" refers to employees and agents of a school. This includes persons with whom the school contracts to provide services for the school. See Brown v. Hot, Sexy, and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.3d 525 (1st Cir. 1995) (Title IX sexual harassment claim brought for school's role in permitting contract consultant hired by it to create allegedly hostile environment).

    In addition, while the standards applicable to peer sexual harassment are generally applicable to claims of student-on-student harassment, schools will be liable for the sexual harassment of one student by another student under the standards applicable to employee-on-student harassment if a student engages in sexual harassment as an agent or employee of a school. For instance, a school would be liable under the standards applicable to quid pro quo harassment if a student teaching assistant, who has been given the authority to assign grades, requires a student in his or her class to submit to sexual advances in order to obtain a certain grade in the class.

  5. Alexander, 459 F.Supp. at 4 (a claim that academic advancement was conditioned upon submission to sexual demands constitutes a claim of sex discrimination in education); Kadiki, 892 F.Supp. at 752 (reexamination in a course conditioned on college student's agreeing to be spanked should she not attain a certain grade may constitute quid pro quo harassment); see also Karibian v. Columbia University, 14 F.3d 773, 777-79 (2nd Cir. 1994) (Title VII case).
  6. See e.g., Franklin, 503 U.S. at 63 (conduct of a sexual nature found to support a sexual harassment claim under Title IX included kissing, sexual intercourse); Meritor Savings Bank FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 60-61 (1986) (demands for sexual favors, sexual advances, fondling, indecent exposure, sexual intercourse, rape sufficient to raise hostile environment claim under Title VII); Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 114 S.Ct. 367 (1993)(sexually derogatory comments and innuendo may support a sexual harassment claim under Title VII); Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d 872,873-74, 880 (9th Cir. 1991) (allegations sufficient to state a sexual harassment claim under Title VII included repeated requests for dates, letters making explicit references to sex and describing the harasser's feelings for plaintiff); Lipsett v. University of Puerto Rico, 864 F.2d 881, 903-4 (1st Cir. 1988) (sexually derogatory comments, posting of sexually explicit drawing of plaintiff, sexual advances may support sexual harassment claim); Kadiki, 892 F.Supp. at 751 (professor's spanking of a university student may constitute sexual conduct under Title IX); Doe v. Petaluma, 830 F.Supp. at 1564-65 (sexually derogatory taunts and innuendo can be the basis of a harassment claim); Denver School Dist. #1, OCR Case No. 08-92-1007 (same as to allegations of vulgar language and obscenities, pictures of nude women on office walls and desks, unwelcome touching, sexually offensive jokes, bribery to perform sexual acts, indecent exposure); Nashoba Regional High School, OCR Case No. 01-92-1377 (same as to year-long campaign of derogatory, sexually explicit graffiti and remarks directed at one student.)
  7. Davis, 74 F.3d at 1194, vacated, reh'g granted; Doe v. Petaluma, 830 F.Supp. at 1571-73; Moire v. Temple University School of Medicine, 613 F.Supp. 1360, 1366 (E.D. Pa. 1985), aff'd mem., 800 F.2d 1136 (3d Cir. 1986); see also Vinson, 477 U.S. at 67; Lipsett, 864 F.2d at 901; Racial Harassment Guidance, 59 FR 11449- 50. But see note 27.
  8. 34 CFR 106.8(b).
  9. 20 U.S.C. 1687 (codification of Title IX portion of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987).
  10. 10. See also Shoreline School Dist., OCR Case No. 10-92-1002 (a teacher's patting student on arm, shoulder, and back, and restraining the student when he was out of control, not conduct of a sexual nature); Dartmouth Public Schools, OCR Case No. 01-90-1058 (same as to contact between high school coach and students); San Francisco State University, OCR Case No. 09-94-2038 (same as to faculty advisor placing her arm around graduate student's shoulder in posing for a picture); Analy Union High School Dist., OCR Case No. 09-92-1249 (same as to drama instructor who put his arms around both male and female students who confided in him.)
  11. Cf. John Does 1 v. Covington County School Bd., 884 F.Supp. 462, 464-65 (M.D. Ala. 1995) (male students alleging that teacher sexually harassed and abused them stated cause of action under Title IX).
  12. Title IX and the regulations implementing it prohibit discrimination "on the basis of sex;" they do not restrict sexual harassment to those circumstances in which the harasser only harasses members of the opposite sex in incidents involving either quid pro quo or hostile environment sexual harassment. See 34 CFR 106.31. In order for hostile environment harassment to be actionable under Title IX, it must create a hostile or abusive environment. This can occur when a student or employee harasses a member of the same sex. See Kinman, 94 F.3d at 468 (female student's alleging sexual harassment by female teacher sufficient to raise a claim under Title IX); Doe v. Petaluma, 830 F.Supp. at 1564-65, 1575 (female junior high school student alleging sexual harassment by other students, including both boys and girls, sufficient to raise claim under Title IX); John Does 1, 884 F.Supp. at 465 (same as to male students' allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by male teacher.) It can also occur in certain situations if the harassment is directed at students of both sexes. Chiapuzo v. BLT Operating Co., 826 F.Supp. 1334 (D. Wyo. 1993) (court found that such harassment could violate Title VII).

    In many circumstances, harassing conduct will be on the basis of sex because the student would not have been subjected to it at all had he or she been a member of the opposite sex; e.g., if a female student is repeatedly propositioned by a male student or employee (or, for that matter, if a male student is repeatedly propositioned by a male student or employee). In other circumstances, harassing conduct will be on the basis of sex if the student would not have been affected by it in the same way or to the same extent had he or she been a member of the opposite sex; e.g., pornography and sexually explicit jokes in a mostly male shop class are likely to affect the few girls in the class more than it will most of the boys.

    In yet other circumstances, the conduct will be on the basis of sex in that the student's sex was a factor in or affected the nature of the harasser'sconduct or both. Thus, in Chiapuzo, a supervisor made demeaning remarks to both partners of a married couple working for him, e.g., as to sexual acts he wanted to engage in with the wife and how he would be a better lover than the husband. In both cases, according to the court, the remarks were gender-driven in that they were made with an intent to demean each member of the couple because of his or her respective sex. See also Steiner v. Showboat Operating Co., 25 F.3d 1459, 1463-64 (9th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 733 (1995) (Title VII case).

  13. Nashoba Regional High School, OCR Case No. 01-92-1397. In Conejo Valley School Dist., OCR Case No. 09-93-1305, female students allegedly taunted another female student about engaging in sexual activity; OCR found that the alleged comments were sexually explicit and, if true, would be sufficiently severe, persistent, and pervasive to create a hostile environment.
  14. Williamson v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 876 F.2d 69 (8th Cir. 1989, cert. denied 493 U.S. 1089 (1990) (Title VII case); DeSantis v. Pacific Tel. & Tel. Co., Inc., 608 F.2d 327 (9th Cir. 1979) (same); Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936 (5th Cir. 1979) (same).
  15. See Nabozny v. Podlesny, 92 F.3d 446 (7th Cir. 1996) (holding that a gay student could maintain claims alleging discrimination based on both gender and sexual orientation under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution in case in which school district officials allegedly failed to protect the student to the same extent that other students were protected from harassment and harm by other students due to the student's gender and sexual orientation).
  16. See Vinson, 477 U.S. at 65-66; Harris, 114 S.Ct. at 370-371; see also Hicks v. Gates Rubber Co., 833 F.2d 1406, 1416 (10th Cir. 1987) (Title VII case); McKinney v. Dole, 765 F.2d 1129, 1138 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (Title VII case; physical, but non-sexual, assault could be sex-based harassment if shown to be unequal treatment that would not have taken place but for the employee's sex); Cline v. General Electric Capital Auto Lease, Inc., 757 F.Supp. 923 (N.D. Ill. 1991) (Title VII case).
  17. See Harris, 114 S.Ct. at 370-371; Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1485-86 (3rd Cir. 1990) (Title VII case; court directed trial court to consider sexual conduct as well as theft of female employees' files and work, destruction of property, and anonymous phone calls in determining if there had been sex discrimination); see also Hall v. Gus Construction Co., 842 F.2d 1010, 1014 (8th Cir. 1988) (Title VII case); Hicks, 833 F.2d at 1415; Eden Prairie Schools, Dist. #272, OCR Case No. 05-92- 1174 (the boys made lewd comments about male anatomy and tormented the girls by pretending to stab them with rubber knives; while the stabbing was not sexual conduct, it was directed at them because of their sex, i.e., because they were girls.
  18. The Supreme Court has ruled that agency principles apply in determining an employer's liability under Title VII for the harassment of its employees by supervisors. See Vinson, 477 U.S. at 72. These principles would govern in Title IX cases involving employees who are harassed by their supervisors. See 28 CFR 42.604 (regulations providing for handling employment discrimination complaints by Federal agencies; requiring agencies to apply Title VII law if applicable). These same principles should govern the liability of educational institutions under Title IX for the harassment of students by teachers and other school employees in positions of authority. See Franklin, 503 U.S. at 75.
  19. The Supreme Court in Vinson did not alter the standard developed in the lower Federal courts whereby an institution is absolutely liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment whether or not it knew, should have known, or approved of the harassment at issue. 477 U.S. at 70-71; see also Lipsett, 864 F.2d at 901; EEOC Notice N-915-050, March 1990, Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment, at p. 21. This standard applies in the school context as well. Kadiki, 892 F.Supp. at 752 (for the purposes of quid pro quo harassment of a student, professor is in similar position as workplace supervisor).
  20. Kadiki, 892 F.Supp. at 754-755; cf. Martin v. Cavalier Hotel Corp., 48 F.3d 1343, 1351 n.3 (4th Cir. 1995) (Title VII case); Karibian, 14 F.3d at 777-78; Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 910 (11th Cir. 1982) (Title VII case).
  21. See note 4.
  22. Restatement (Second) Agency §219(2)(d); Martin, 48 F.3d at 1352 (finding an employer liable under Title VII for sexual harassment of an employee in case in which the Manager used his apparent authority to commit the harassment; the Manager was delegated full authority to hire, fire, promote, and discipline employees and used the authority to accomplish the harassment; and company policy required employees to report harassment to the Manager with no other grievance process made available to them).
  23. See Restatement (Second) of Agency §219(2)(d); EEOC Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment at p. 28; Karibian, 14 F.3d at 780; Hirschfeld v. New Mexico Corrections Dept., 916 F.2d 572, 579 (10th Cir. 1990) (Title VII case); Martin, 48 F.3d at 1352. But see Rosa H. v. San Elizario Ind. School Dist., 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 2780 (5th Cir. Feb. 17, 1997). In San Elizario the Fifth Circuit reversed a jury finding that a school district was liable under Title IX for a hostile environment created by the school's male karate instructor, who repeatedly initiated sexual intercourse with a fifteen year old female karate student. The court held, contrary to OCR policy, that a school could not be found liable under Title IX pursuant to agency principles.

    However, language in this and previous decisions indicates that Title IX law is evolving in the Fifth Circuit. When OCR investigates complaints involving schools in the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi), it will in each case determine and follow the current applicable law. In light of the evolving case law in the Fifth Circuit, adhering to the standards in the Guidance may be the best way for schools in these States to ensure compliance with the requirements of Title IX. School personnel should also consider whether State, local, or other Federal authority affect their obligations in these areas.

  24. Karibian, 14 F.3d at 780 (employer would be liable for hostile environment harassment in case in which allegations were that a supervisor coerced employee into a sexual relationship by, among other things, telling her she "'owed him' for all he was doing for her as her supervisor"); Sparks v. Pilot Freight Carriers, Inc., 830 F.2d 1554, 1558-60 (11th Cir. 1987) (Title VII case holding employer liable for sexually hostile environment created by supervisor who repeatedly reminded the harassed employee that he could fire her if she did not comply with his sexual advances).
  25. Cf. Karibian, 14 F.3d at 780.
  26. Id.
  27. The overwhelming majority of courts that have considered the issue of sexually hostile environments caused by peers have indicated that schools may be liable under Title IX for their knowing failure to take appropriate actions to remedy the hostile environment. See note 7 and peer hostile environment cases cited in note 3. However, one Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Rowinsky v. Bryan Independent School Dist., 80 F.3d 1006 (5th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S.Ct. 165 (1996), has held to the contrary.

    In that case, over a strong dissent, the court rejected the authority of other Federal courts and OCR's longstanding construction of Title IX and held that a school district is not liable under Title IX for peer harassment unless "the school district itself directly discriminated based on sex," i.e., the school responded differently to sexual harassment or similar claims of girls versus boys. For cases specifically rejecting the Rowinsky interpretation, see e.g., Doe v. Petaluma, Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration Granted, 1996 WL 432298 *6 (N.D. Cal. 1996); Burrow v. Postville Community School Dist., 929 F.Supp. at 1193.

    OCR believes that the Rowinsky decision misinterprets Title IX. As explained in this Guidance, Title IX does not make a school responsible for the actions of the harassing student, but rather for its own discrimination in failing to take immediate and appropriate steps to remedy the hostile environment once a school official knows about it. If a student is sexually harassed by a fellow student, and a school official knows about it, but does not stop it, the school is permitting an atmosphere of sexual discrimination to permeate the educational program. The school is liable for its own action, or lack of action, in response to this discrimination. Notably, Title VII cases that hold that employers are responsible for remedying hostile environment harassment of one worker by a co-worker apply this same standard. See, e.g., Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d at 881-82; Hall v. Gus Construction Co., 842 F.2d 1010 (8th Cir. 1988); Hunter v. Allis-Chalmers Corp., 797 F.2d 1417 (7th Cir. 1986); Snell v. Suffolk, 782 F.2d 1094 (2nd Cir. 1986); Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards, 760 F.Supp. 1486 (M.D. Fla. 1991).

    Language in subsequent decisions indicates that Title IX law is evolving in the Fifth Circuit. When OCR investigates complaints involving schools in States in the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi), it will in each case determine and follow the current applicable law. However, the existence of Fifth Circuit decisions that are inconsistent with OCR policy does not prohibit schools in these States from following the Guidance. In order to ensure students a safe and nondiscriminatory educational environment, the better practice is for these schools to follow the Guidance. Thus, schools should take prompt corrective action to address peer harassment of which they knew or should have known. Indeed, following the Guidance may be the safest way for schools in these States to ensure compliance with the requirements of Title IX.

  28. See Restatement (Second) of Agency §219(2)(b).
  29. As with peer harassment by its own students, a school's liability for the harassment of its students by third parties is based on its obligation to provide an environment free of discrimination. Murray, 57 F.3d at 250 (student participating in university dental clinic providing services to the public alleged harassment by a patient; while the court ruled in defendant's favor because of lack of notice, it considered such a claim actionable under Title IX); Racial Harassment Investigative Guidance, 59 FR 11450 (referring to harassment by neighborhood teenagers, guest speaker, and parents). See, e.g., 29 CFR 1604.11(e); Sparks v. Regional Medical Ctr., 792 F.Supp. 735, 738 n.1 (N.D. Ala. 1992) (Title VII case); Powell v. Las Vegas Hilton Corp., 841 F.Supp. 1024, 1027-28 (D. Nev. 1992) (Title VII case); Magnuson v. Peak Technical Servs., Inc., 808 F.Supp. 500, 512-13 (E.D. Va. 1992) (Title VII case); EEOC v. Sage Realty Corp., 507 F.Supp. 599, 611 (S.D.N.Y. 1981) (Title VII case); cf. Dornhecker v. Malibu Grand Prix Corp., 828 F.2d 307 (5th Cir. 1987) (assuming Title VII required employer to respond appropriately to sexual harassment of an employee by a contractor, but finding employer's response sufficient). See also Restatement (Second) of Agency §219(2)(b).
  30. For example, if athletes from a visiting team harass the home school's students, the home school may not be able to discipline the athletes. However, it could encourage the other school to take appropriate action to prevent further incidents; if necessary, the home school may choose not to invite the other school back. Cf. Danna v. New York Telephone Co., 752 F.Supp. 594, 611 (S.D.N.Y. 1990) (telephone company in violation of Title VII for not taking sufficient action to protect its own employee from sexually explicit graffiti at airport where she was assigned to work, e.g., contacting airport management to see what remedial measures could be taken).
  31. 34 CFR 106.8(b) and 106.9.
  32. See Racial Harassment Investigative Guidance, 59 FR 11450; Murray, 57 F.3d at 249 (an employer is liable for the harassment of co-workers if the employer "either provided no reasonable avenue for complaint or knew of the harassment but did nothing about it".
  33. EEOC Policy Guidance at p. 25 ("* * * in the absence of a strong, widely disseminated, and consistently enforced employer policy against sexual harassment, and an effective complaint procedure, employees could reasonably believe that a harassing supervisor's actions will be ignored, tolerated, or even condoned by upper management.")
  34. CFR 106.8(b).
  35. If OCR finds a violation of Title IX, it will seek to obtain an agreement with the school to voluntarily correct the violation. The agreement will set out the specific steps the school will take and provide for monitoring by OCR to ensure that the school complies with the agreement. Schools should note that the Supreme Court has held that monetary damages are available as a remedy in private lawsuits brought to redress violations of Title IX. Franklin, 503 U.S. at 76. Of course, a school's immediate and appropriate remedial actions are relevant in determining the nature and extent of the damages suffered by a plaintiff.
  36. . Henson, 682 F.2d at 903 (Title VII case).
  37. [T]he fact that sex-related conduct was "voluntary," in the sense that the complainant was not forced to participate against her will, is not a defense to a sexual harassment suit brought under Title VII * * *. The correct inquiry is whether [the subject of the harassment] by her conduct indicated that the alleged sexual advances were unwelcome, not whether her actual participation in sexual intercourse was voluntary. Vinson, 477 U.S. at 68.
  38. Lipsett, 864 F.2d at 898 (while, in some instances, a person may have responsibility for telling the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome, in other cases a "consistent failure to respond to suggestive comments or gestures may be sufficient ***."); Danna, 752 F.Supp. at 612 (despite female employee's own foul language and participation in graffiti writing, her complaints to management indicated that the harassment was not welcome); see also Carr v. Allison Gas Turbine Div., GMC, 32 F.3d 1007, 1011 (7th Cir. 1994) (Title VII case; cursing and dirty jokes by female employee did not show that she welcomed the sexual harassment, given her frequent complaints about it: "Even if ... [the employee's] testimony that she talked and acted as she did [only] in an effort to be 'one of the boys' is ... discounted, her words and conduct cannot be compared to those of the men and used to justify their conduct.... The asymmetry of positions must be considered. She was one woman; they were many men. Her use of [vulgar] terms ... could not be deeply threatening.").
  39. Reed v. Shepard, 939 F.2d 484, 486-87, 491-92 (7th Cir. 1991) (no harassment found under Title VII in case in which female employee not only tolerated, but also participated in and instigated the suggestive joking activities about which she was now complaining); Weinsheimer v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 794 F.Supp. 1559, 1563-64 (M.D. Fla. 1990) (same, in case in which general shop banter was full of vulgarity and sexual innuendo by men and women alike, and plaintiff contributed her share to this atmosphere). However, even if a student participates in the sexual banter, OCR may in certain circumstances find that the conduct was nevertheless unwelcome if, for example, a teacher took an active role in the sexual banter and a student reasonably perceived that the teacher expected him or her to participate.
  40. The school bears the burden of rebutting the presumption.
  41. Of course, nothing in Title IX would prohibit a school from implementing policies prohibiting sexual conduct or sexual relationships between students and adult employees. 42. See note 41.
  42. In Harris, the Supreme Court explained the requirement for considering the "subjective perspective" when determining the existence of a hostile environment. The Court stated: "...if the victim does not subjectively perceive the environment to be abusive, the conduct has not actually altered the conditions of the victim's employment, and there is no Title VII violation." 114 S.Ct. at 370.
  43. The Supreme Court used a "reasonable person" standard in Harris, 114 S.Ct. at 370-71 to determine whether sexual conduct constituted harassment. This standard has been applied under Title VII to take into account the sex of the subject of the harassment, see, e.g., Ellison, 924 F.2d at 878-79 (applying a "reasonable women" standard to sexual harassment), and has been adapted to sexual harassment in education, Davis, 74 F.3d at 1126 (relying on Harris to adopt an objective, reasonable person standard), vacated, reh'g granted; Patricia H. v. Berkeley Unified School Dist., 830 F. Supp. 1288, 1296 (N.D. Cal. 1993) (adopting a "reasonable victim" standard and referring to OCR's use of it); Racial Harassment Guidance, 59 FR 11452 (the standard must take into account the characteristics and circumstances of victims on a case-by-case basis, particularly the victim's race and age).
  44. Harris, 114 S.Ct. at 371; See Racial Harassment Guidance, 59 FR 11449 and 11452; Brock v. United States, 64 F.3d 1421, 1423 (9th Cir. 1995) (Title VII case); Simon v. Morehouse Sch. of Medicine, 908 F.Supp. 959, 969-970 (N.D. Ga. 1995) (Title VII case); Al- Dabbagh v. Greenpeace, Inc., 873 F.Supp. 1105, 1111-12 (N.D. Ill. 1994) (Title VII case); Watts v. N.Y.C. Police Dept., 724 F.Supp. 99, 104 (S.D.N.Y. 1989) (Title VII case).
  45. Davis, 74 F.3d at 1126 (no Title IX violation unless the conduct has "actually altered the conditions of [the student's] learning environment"), vacated, reh'g granted; Lipsett, 864 F.2d at 898 ("altered" the educational environment); Patricia H., 830 F. Supp. at 1297 (sexual harassment could be found where conduct interfered with student's ability to learn); see also Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1482 (Title VII case).
  46. Harris, 114 S.Ct. at 371.
  47. See e.g., Doe v Petaluma, 830 F. Supp at 1566 (student so upset about harassment by other students that she was forced to transfer several times, including finally to a private school); Modesto City Schools, OCR Case No. 09-93-1391 (evidence showed that one girl's grades dropped while the harassment was occurring); Weaverville Elementary School, OCR Case No. 09-91-1116 (students left school due to the harassment). Compare with College of Alameda, OCR Case No. 09-90-2104 (student not in instructor's class and no evidence of any effect on student's educational benefits or services, so no hostile environment).
  48. Doe v. Petaluma, 830 F. Supp. at 1566.
  49. See Harris, 114 S.Ct. at 371, in which the Court held that tangible harm is not required. In determining whether harm is sufficient, several factors are to be considered, including frequency, severity, whether the conduct was threatening or humiliating versus a mere offensive utterance, and whether it unreasonably interfered with work performance. No single factor is required; similarly, psychological harm, while relevant, is not required.
  50. See Modesto City Schools, OCR Case No. 09-93-1391 (evidence showed that several girls were afraid to go to school because of the harassment).
  51. Summerfield Schools, OCR Case No. 15-92-1029.
  52. See Waltman v. Int'l Paper Co., 875 F.2d 468, 477 (5th Cir. 1989) (Title VII case); see also Hall, 842 F.2d at 1015 (evidence of sexual harassment directed at others is relevant to show hostile environment under Title VII); Racial Harassment Investigative Guidance, 59 FR 11453.
  53. See, e.g., Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1484 ("Harassment is pervasive when 'incidents of harassment occur either in concert or with regularity'."); Moylan v. Maries County, 792 F.2d 746, 749 (8th Cir. 1986) (Title VII case); Downes v. Federal Aviation Administration, 775 F.2d 288, 293 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (same); cf. Scott v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 798 F.2d 210, 214 (7th Cir. 1986) (Title VII case; conduct was not pervasive or debilitating).
  54. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated: "The Commission will presume that the unwelcome, intentional touching of [an employee's] intimate body areas is sufficiently offensive to alter the conditions of her working environment and constitute a violation of Title VII. More so than in the case of verbal advances or remarks, a single unwelcome physical advance can seriously poison the victim's working environment." EEOC Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment, p. 17. See also Barrett v. Omaha National Bank, 584 F. Supp. 22, 30 (D. Neb. 1983), aff'd, 726 F.2d 424 (8th Cir. 1984) (hostile environment created under Title VII by isolated events, i.e., occurring while traveling to and during a two-day conference, including the co-worker's talking to plaintiff about sexual activities and touching her in offensive manner while they were inside a vehicle from which she could not escape).
  55. See also Ursuline College, OCR Case No. 05-91-2068 (A single incident of comments on a male student's muscles arguably not sexual; however, assuming they were, not severe enough to create a hostile environment).
  56. Patricia H., 830 F.Supp. at 1297 ("grave disparity in age and power" between teacher and student contributed to the creation of a hostile environment); Summerfield Schools, OCR Case No. 15-92- 1929 ("impact of the ... remarks was heightened by the fact that the coach is an adult in a position of authority"); cf. Doe v. Taylor I.S.D., 15 F.3d 443 (5th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 70 (1994) (Sec. 1983 case; in finding that a sexual relationship between a high school teacher and a student was unlawful, court considered the influence that the teacher had over the student by virtue of his position of authority).
  57. See, e.g., McKinney, 765 F.2d at 1138-40; Robinson, 760 F. Supp. at 1522.
  58. Cf. Patricia H., 830 F. Supp. at 1297.
  59. See also Barrett, 584 F. Supp. at 24 (harassment occurring in a car from which the plaintiff could not escape was deemed particularly severe).
  60. See also Hall, 842 F.2d at 1015 (incidents of sexual harassment directed at other employees); Hicks, 833 F.2d at 1415-16 (same). Cf. Midwest City-Del City Public Schools, OCR Case No. 06- 92-1012 (finding of racially hostile environment based in part on several racial incidents at school shortly before incidents in complaint, a number of which involved the same student involved in the complaint).
  61. See note 17. In addition, incidents of racial or national origin harassment directed at a particular individual may also be aggregated with incidents of sexual or gender harassment directed at that individual in determining the existence of a hostile environment. Hicks, 833 F.2d at 1416; Jefferies v. Harris Community Action Ass'n, 615 F.2d 1025, 1032 (5th Cir. 1980) (Title VII case).
  62. In addition, even if there is no notice, schools may be liable for sexual harassment. See previous discussions of liability in situations involving quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment sexual harassment by employees in situations in which the employee acted with apparent authority or was aided in carrying out the harassment of students by his or her position of authority with the school.
  63. See Ellison v. Brady, 924 F.2d 872, 881 (9th Cir. 1991), quoting EEOC v. Hacienda Hotel, 881 F.2d 1504, 1515-1516 (9th Cir. 1989) (Title VII cases); Swentek v. USAir, 830 F.2d 552, 558 (4th Cir. 1987), quoting Katz v. Dole, 709 F.2d at 255 (Title VII cases).

    But see Rosa H. v. San Elizario Indep. School Dist., 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 2780 (5th Cir. Feb. 17, 1997) and note 23. In San Elizario, the Fifth Circuit held, among other things, that liability for hostile environment harassment cannot attach where the school has only constructive notice of the harassment. See note 23.

  64. Whether an employee is an agent or responsible school employee, or whether it would be reasonable for a student to believe the employee is, even if the employee is not, will vary depending on factors such as the authority actually given to the employee and the age of the student.

    With respect to the notice provisions applicable to schools under Title IX, one Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Canutillo Indep. School Dist. v. Leija, 101 F.3d 393, 398-400 (5th Cir. 1996), has held, contrary to OCR policy, that a school district was not liable in a case in which one of its teachers sexually molested a second grade student, because the student and her mother only reported the harassment to her homeroom teacher. Notwithstanding that a school handbook instructed students and parents to report complaints to the child's primary or homeroom teacher, the court held that notice must be given to "someone with authority to take remedial action." See also Rosa H. v. San Elizario Indep. School Dist., 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 2780 (5th Cir. Feb. 17, 1997), and notes 23 and 64. In San Elizario, the Fifth Circuit held, among other things, that although the fifteen year old student, whose karate instructor had repeatedly initiated sexual intercourse, "was subject to discrimination on the basis of sex," a school district is only liable if an employee who has been invested by the school board with supervisory power over the offending employee actually knew of the abuse, had the power to end the abuse, and failed to do so.

    Based on these and other decisions, Title IX law is evolving in the Fifth Circuit. When OCR investigates complaints involving schools in States in the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi), it will in each case determine and follow the current applicable law. However, the existence of Fifth Circuit decisions that are inconsistent with OCR policy does not prohibit schools in these States from following the Guidance. In order to ensure students a safe and nondiscriminatory educational environment, it is the better practice for these schools to follow the Guidance. For example, the better practice is for schools to ensure that teachers and other personnel recognize and report sexual harassment of students to the appropriate school staff so that schools can take prompt corrective action and ensure a safe educational environment. In addition, the Guidance makes clear that providing students with several avenues to report sexual harassment is a very helpful means for addressing and preventing sexually harassing conduct in the first place. Schools in States in the Fifth Circuit should also consider whether State, local or other Federal laws may affect their responsibilities in this regard.

  65. Racial Harassment Guidance, 59 FR 11450 (discussing how a school may receive notice).
  66. See Yates v. Avco Corp., 819 F.2d 630, 634-36 (6th Cir. 1987) (Title VII case); Katz v. Dole, 709 F.2d 251, 256 (4th Cir. 1983) (same); See also Racial Harassment Investigative Guidance, 59 FR 11450.
  67. Cf. Katz, 709 F.2d at 256 (the employer "should have been aware of the...problem both because of its pervasive character and because of Katz' specific complaints..."); Smolsky v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 780 F. Supp. 283, 293 (E.D. Pa. 1991), reconsideration denied, 785 F. Supp. 71 (E.D. Pa. 1992) ("where the harassment is apparent to all others in the work place, supervisors and coworkers, this may be sufficient to put the employer on notice of the sexual harassment" under Title VII); Jensen v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 824 F. Supp. 847, 887 (D. Minn. 1993) (Title VII case; "[s]exual harassment...was so pervasive that an inference of knowledge arises....The acts of sexual harassment detailed herein were too common and continuous to have escaped Eveleth Mines had its management been reasonably alert"); Cummings v. Walsh Construction Co., 561 F. Supp. 872, 878 (S.D. Ga. 1983) ("...allegations not only of the [employee] registering her complaints with her foreman...but also that sexual harassment was so widespread that defendant had constructive notice of it" under Title VII); but see Murray, 57 F.3d at 250-51 (that other students knew of the conduct was not enough to charge the school with notice, particularly in case in which these students may not have been aware that the conduct was offensive or abusive).
  68. Schools have an obligation to ensure that the educational environment is free of discrimination and cannot fulfill this obligation without determining if sexual harassment complaints have merit.
  69. In some situations, for example, if a playground supervisor observes a young student repeatedly engaging in conduct toward other students that is clearly unacceptable under the school's policies, it may be appropriate for the school to intervene without contacting the other students. It may still be necessary for the school to talk with the students (and parents of elementary and secondary students) afterwards, e.g., to determine the extent of the harassment and how it affected them.
  70. Cf. Bundy v. Jackson, 641 F.2d 934, 947 (D.C. Cir. 1981) (employers should take corrective and preventive measures under Title VII); accord, Jones v. Flagship Int'l, 793 F.2d 714, 719-720 (5th Cir. 1986) (employer should take prompt remedial action under Title VII). Racial Harassment Investigative Guidance, 59 FR 11450.
  71. Waltman v. Int'l Paper Co., 875 F.2d at 479 (appropriateness of employer's remedial action under Title VII will depend on the severity and persistence of the harassment and the effectiveness of any initial remedial steps); Dornhecker v. Malibu Grand Prix Corp., 828 F.2d 307, 309-10 (5th Cir. 1987) (Title VII case; employer arranged for victim to no longer work with alleged harasser).
  72. Intlekofer v. Turnage, 973 F.2d 773 (9th Cir. 1992) (Title VII case) (holding that the employer's response was insufficient and that more severe disciplinary action was necessary in situations in which counseling, separating the parties, and warnings of possible discipline were ineffective in ending the harassing behavior).
  73. Offering assistance in changing living arrangements is one of the actions required of colleges and universities by the Campus Security Act in cases of rape and sexual assault. See 20 U.S.C. 1092(f).
  74. See note 30.
  75. University of California at Santa Cruz, OCR Case No. 09-93- 2141 (extensive individual and group counseling); Eden Prairie Schools, Dist. #272, OCR Case No. 05-92-1174 (counseling).
  76. Even if the harassment stops without the school's involvement, the school may still need to take steps to prevent or deter any future harassment -- to inform the school community that harassment will not be tolerated. Fuller v. City of Oakland, 47 F.3d 1522, 1528-29 (9th Cir. 1995).
  77. 34 CFR 106.8(b) and 106.71, incorporating by reference 34 CFR 100.7(e). Title IX prohibits intimidation, threats, coercion, or discrimination against any individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by Title IX.
  78. Tacoma School Dist. No. 10, OCR Case No. 10-94-1079 (due to the large number of students harassed by an employee, the extended period of time over which the harassment occurred, and the failure of several of the students to report the harassment, school committed as part of corrective action plan to providing training for students); Los Medanos College, OCR Case No. 09-84-2092 (as part of corrective action plan, school committed to providing sexual harassment seminar for campus employees); Sacramento City Unified School Dist., OCR Case No. 09-83-1063 (same as to workshops for management and administrative personnel, in-service training for non-management personnel).
  79. In addition, if information about the incident is contained in an "education record" of the student alleging the harassment, as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. 1232g, the school should consider whether FERPA would prohibit the school from disclosing information without the student's consent. Id. In evaluating whether FERPA would limit disclosure, the Department does not interpret FERPA to override any federally protected due process rights of a school employee accused of harassment.
  80. 34 CFR 106.8(b). This requirement has been part of the Title IX regulations since their inception in 1975. Thus, schools have been required to have these procedures in place since that time. At the elementary and secondary level, this responsibility generally lies with the school district. At the postsecondary level, there may be a procedure for a particular campus or college, or for an entire university system.
  81. Fenton Community High School Dist. # 100, OCR Case 05-92-1104.
  82. While a school is required to have a grievance procedure under which complaints of sex discrimination (including sexual harassment) can be filed, the same procedure may also be used to address other forms of discrimination.
  83. See Vinson, 477 U.S. at 72-73.
  84. It is the Department's current position under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that a school cannot release information to a complainant regarding disciplinary action imposed on a student found guilty of harassment if that information is contained in a student's education record unless--(1) the information directly relates to the complainant (e.g., an order requiring the student harasser not to have contact with the complainant); or (2) the harassment involves a crime of violence or a sex offense in a postsecondary institution. See note 80. If the alleged harasser is a teacher, administrator, or other non-student employee, FERPA would not limit the school's ability to inform the complainant of any disciplinary action taken.
  85. The section in the Guidance on "Recipient's Response" provides examples of reasonable and appropriate corrective action.
  86. 34 CFR 106.8(a).
  87. Id.
  88. See Vinson, 477 U.S. at 72-73.
  89. University of California, Santa Cruz, OCR Case No. 09-93-2141; Sonoma State University, OCR Case No. 09-93-2131. This is true for formal as well as informal complaints. See University of Maine at Machias, OCR Case No. 01-94-6001 (school's new procedures not found in violation of Title IX in part because they require written records for informal as well as formal resolutions). These records need not be kept in a student's or employee's individual file, but instead may be kept in a central confidential location.
  90. For example, in Cape Cod Community College, OCR Case No. 01- 93-2047, the College was found to have violated Title IX in part because the person identified by the school as the Title IX coordinator was unfamiliar with Title IX, had no training, and did not even realize he was the coordinator.
  91. Indeed, in University of Maine at Machias, OCR Case No. 01-94- 6001, OCR found the school's procedures to be inadequate because only formal complaints were investigated. While a school isn't required to have an established procedure for resolving informal complaints, they nevertheless must be addressed in some way. However, if there are indications that the same individual may be harassing others, then it may not be appropriate to resolve an informal complaint without taking steps to address the entire situation.
  92. Academy School Dist. No. 20, OCR Case No. 08-93-1023 (school's response determined to be insufficient in case in which it stopped its investigation after complaint filed with police); Mills Public School Dist., OCR Case No. 01-93-1123 (not sufficient for school to wait until end of police investigation).
  93. Cf. EEOC v. Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities, 957 F.2d 424 (7th Cir.) (Title VII case), cert. denied, 113 S.Ct. 299 (1992); Johnson v. Palma, 931 F.2d 203 (2nd Cir. 1991) (same).
  94. The First Amendment applies to entities and individuals that are State actors. The receipt of Federal funds by private schools does not directly subject those schools to the U.S. Constitution. See Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 840 (1982). However, all actions taken by OCR must comport with First Amendment principles, even in cases involving private schools that are not directly subject to the First Amendment.
  95. See, e.g., George Mason University, OCR Case No. 03-94-2086 (law professor's use of a racially derogatory word, as part of an instructional hypothetical regarding verbal torts, did not constitute racial harassment); Portland School Dist. 1J, OCR Case No. 10-94-1117 (reading teacher's choice to substitute a less offensive term for a racial slur when reading an historical novel aloud in class constituted an academic decision on presentation of curriculum, not racial harassment).
  96. See Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University, 993 F.2d 386 (4th Cir. 1993) (fraternity skit in which white male student dressed as an offensive caricature of a black female constituted student expression).
  97. See Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, OCR Case No. 04-92-2054 (no discrimination in case in which campus newspaper, which welcomed individual opinions of all sorts, printed article expressing one student's viewpoint on white students on campus).
  98. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969) (neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gates); Cf. Cohen v. San Bernardino Valley College, (college professor could not be punished for his longstanding teaching methods, which included discussion of controversial subjects such as obscenity and consensual sex with children, under an unconstitutionally vague sexual harassment policy); George Mason University, OCR Case No. 03-94-2086 (law professor's use of a racially derogatory word, as part of an instructional hypothetical regarding verbal torts, did not constitute racial harassment).
  99. See, e.g., University of Illinois, OCR Case No. 05-94-2104 (fact that university's use of Native American symbols was offensive to some Native American students and employees was not dispositive, in and of itself, in assessing a racially hostile environment claim under Title VI).
  100. See Vinson, 477 U.S. at 67 (the "mere utterance of an ethnic or racial epithet which engenders offensive feelings in an employee" would not affect the conditions of employment to a sufficient degree to violate Title VII), quoting Henson, 682 F.2d at 904; cf. R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 389 (1992) (citing with approval EEOC's sexual harassment guidelines).
  101. Compare Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675, 685 (1986) (Court upheld discipline of high school student for making lewd speech to student assembly, noting that "[t]he undoubted freedom to advocate unpopular and controversial issues in schools and classrooms must be balanced against the society's countervailing interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior."), with Iota XI 993 F.2d 386 (holding that, notwithstanding a university's mission to create a culturally diverse learning environment and its substantial interest in maintaining a campus free of discrimination, it could not punish students who engaged in an offensive skit with racist and sexist overtones).
Sexual Harrassment Preamble


 
Print this page Printable view Send this page Share this page
Last Modified: 03/14/2005