Office of Civil Rights Issues Title IX Guidance with a Focus on Title IX Coordinators

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On April 24, 2015, the United States Department of Education, through its Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”), issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” emphasizing the importance of Title IX Coordinators at education programs and schools that receive federal financial assistance (“recipients”).  As explained in the recent guidance, Title IX Coordinators have special advisory responsibilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), which prohibits sex discrimination and provides a means of addressing complaints of sexual harassment by students and employees in schools. 

To remain compliant with Title IX, federal regulations require recipients to designate at least one responsible employee — referred to as the Title IX Coordinator — to coordinate a recipient’s efforts to comply with and carry out its obligations under federal law. To bolster past OCR letters and advisory holdings, the 2015 Dear Colleague Letter reiterates the Title IX Coordinator’s role in helping recipients ensure that every individual affected by the operations of the school is aware of the legal rights that Title IX affords.

Unlike Title IX itself, the 2015 Dear Colleague Letter is not mandatory law.  Rather, the letter draws on past OCR findings to compile suggested guidance for recipients to follow.  Nevertheless, conformity with the OCR’s recommendations could assist recipients facing a potential OCR audit or investigation.  The following guidelines are contained in the most recent Dear Colleague Letter.

When selecting a Title IX Coordinator, the OCR urges schools to search for an individual whose other job responsibilities do not create a conflict of interest, who reports to senior leadership, and who has a full-time position.  In fact, multiple Title IX Coordinators may be appropriate at larger institutions.  According to the 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, the Title IX Coordinator should be made aware of all Title IX-related incidents, help determine the outcome of such complaints as appropriate, and coordinate the recipient’s responses to all such complaints.  Title IX Coordinators should be involved in the drafting and revision of policies that establish Title IX compliance, conduct annual climate surveys, and have access to necessary information to identify and proactively address Title IX issues.

Additionally, as stated in the most recent guidance, recipients should make the role of the Title IX Coordinator visible to the school community by posting notices of non-discrimination, notifying students and employees of the Title IX Coordinator’s contact information, creating a webpage regarding Title IX, and publicizing the functions and responsibilities of the Title IX Coordinator.  Recipients should also provide regular training to the Title IX Coordinator, to ensure he or she has the most current knowledge of the laws relating to Title IX.

For more assistance in conforming to the guidance offered in the 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, please contact Connell Foley’s labor and employment law attorneys.