About ED OFFICES


OCR: Office for Civil Rights
   Current Section
Dear Colleague Letter

OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY



Page 7
    In this example, the school employees failed to recognize that the “hazing” constituted sexual harassment.  The school did not comply with its Title IX obligations when it failed to investigate or remedy the sexual harassment.  The conduct was clearly unwelcome, sexual (e.g., sexual rumors and name calling), and sufficiently serious that it limited the student’s ability to participate in and benefit from the school’s education program (e.g., anxiety and declining class participation). 
    The school should have trained its employees on the type of misconduct that constitutes sexual harassment.  The school also should have made clear to its employees that they could not require the student to confront her harassers.  Schools may use informal mechanisms for addressing harassment, but only if the parties agree to do so on a voluntary basis.  Had the school addressed the harassment consistent with Title IX, the school would have, for example, conducted a thorough investigation and taken interim measures to separate the student from the accused harassers.  An effective response also might have included training students and employees on the school’s policies related to harassment, instituting new procedures by which employees should report allegations of harassment, and more widely distributing the contact information for the district’s Title IX coordinator.  The school also might have offered the targeted student tutoring, other academic assistance, or counseling as necessary to remedy the effects of the harassment.16 

Title IX:  Gender-Based Harassment

  • Over the course of a school year, a gay high school student was called names (including anti-gay slurs and sexual comments) both to his face and on social networking sites, physically assaulted, threatened, and ridiculed because he did not conform to stereotypical notions of how teenage boys are expected to act and appear (e.g., effeminate mannerisms, nontraditional choice of extracurricular activities, apparel, and personal grooming choices).  As a result, the student dropped out of the drama club to avoid further harassment.  Based on the student’s self-identification as gay and the homophobic nature of some of the harassment, the school did not recognize that the misconduct included discrimination covered by Title IX.  The school responded to complaints from the student by reprimanding the perpetrators consistent with its anti-bullying policy.  The reprimands of the identified perpetrators stopped the harassment by those individuals.  It did not, however, stop others from undertaking similar harassment of the student.  
    As noted in the example, the school failed to recognize the pattern of misconduct as a form of sex discrimination under Title IX.  Title IX prohibits harassment of both male and female students regardless of the sex of the harasser—i.e., even if the harasser and target are members of the same sex.  It also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping.  Thus, it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their

16 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating allegations of sexual harassment is included in OCR’s Sexual Harassment Guidance, available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html.


   7 | 8 | 9
Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 10/26/2010