Key Court Decisions Address Issues Concerning the Application of Title IX

By: Vincent Holzhall

Published: March 31, 2021

Professor’s Classroom Speech Deemed Protected

In a case involving questions regarding the application of Title IX to classroom instruction, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that a university’s gender-identity policy may infringe upon free speech rights of teaching faculty. In the case, a professor claimed that policy requirements, which mandated the use of students’ preferred gender pronouns in class, conflicted with his own religious convictions. Conversely, the university claimed that failure to fully adhere to the policy amounted to discrimination in violation of Title IX. The Court was unconvinced by the university’s arguments, reasoning that implied restrictions on speech under the policy could lead to compelled “ideological conformity.”

Beyond its central noteworthy holding, the Court offered useful direction regarding the circumstances under which the neutrality of a Title IX investigation may be compromised. In questioning the investigatory process employed by the university, the Court cited the limited number of witnesses engaged and the potential lack of breadth in their perspectives.

Hospital Employees Assert Title IX Claim

A recent federal Court decision involving the Yale New Haven Hospital affirms that employees may claim a private right of action under Title IX for harassment. The opinion also reasons that a teaching hospital may be subject to Title IX requirements, even though it is not fully integrated within a university. This decision points toward a potentially more expansive reach of Title IX.

In considering the question of whether a private right of action is conveyed under Title IX, the Court acknowledged disagreement among the Circuit Courts and the lack of a controlling decision in the Second Circuit; however, the Court reasoned that such a right is consistent with the intended scope of the law.

As Title IX requirements continue to be interpreted by Courts, it is important for institutions to engage in the proactive review of policies and business arrangements. If you have questions about your institution’s Title IX policies, contact a member of the Steptoe & Johnson Higher Education Team.

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