Washington, DC— Yesterday, a coalition of legal and public interest organizations filed a brief opposing the Trump Administration’s attempt to dismiss their case challenging the Department of Education’s rollback of protections for survivors of sexual violence and other forms of sexual harassment. The groups sued the Administration at the beginning of the year in response to the Administration’s new policy.
In support of dismissal of the lawsuit, the Administration made the absurd argument that its discriminatory policy benefits the organizations who sued over it, by giving them the opportunity to pursue their missions of opposing sex discrimination. This logic is akin to arguing that setting fires is beneficial to firefighters.
“It is frankly insulting that the Dept. of Education would argue that such discrimination benefits organizations like ours when, in practice, the policies they have promulgated severely harm survivors and only serve to favor accused students,” said SurvJustice Interim Executive Director Carly Mee.
“The policies that we are challenging in this case not only ignore the purpose of Title IX, they contravene the Department of Education’s own mission of prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education,” said Jennifer Reisch, Legal Director of plaintiff Equal Rights Advocates. “For the administration to argue that our claims should be dismissed because their discriminatory policies give our organization something to sue about is ludicrous. It is akin to arguing that setting fires is beneficial to firefighters.”
The Trump Administration’s new Title IX policy was informed by the stereotyped and baseless belief that many girls and women who report sexual harassment are either lying or merely regret a consensual sexual encounter. As Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges, both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson have made statements in line with this discriminatory viewpoint.
“It is not only unacceptable, but unconstitutional that sexist stereotypes guided the Trump Administration’s unlawful rollback of protections designed to give women and girls in schools and on campuses across the country equal access to education, ” said Anne Harkavy, Executive Director of Democracy Forward.
“Survivors of sexual assault deserve support when coming forward. But instead, the Department of Education continues to defend a policy that makes it harder for them to get the help they need to stay in school,” said Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “The Department should be protecting students’ access to equal education, not undermining it.”
“Once again Secretary DeVos demonstrates that students’ access to education is not a priority for the administration,” said Stacy Malone, Executive Director of Victim Rights Law Center. “Instead of promoting the rights of students and sexual assault victims the Department of Education continues to trample on them.”
“The callous arguments made on behalf of Secretary DeVos show that this Administration does not care about sex discrimination and harassment,” said Jesse Hahnel, Executive Director of the National Center for Youth Law. “It is time for a judge to tell her, yet again, that she got it wrong.”
Among other things, the new Trump Administration Title IX policy discriminates against survivors by:
Telling schools they can give students accused of sexual harassment the right to appeal while denying survivors that same right; and
Eliminating the requirement that schools conduct prompt investigations following reports of sexual violence, allowing cases to drag on for months or years.
Allowing schools to resolve claims of violent sexual assault through mediation, a process that avoids accountability, can be traumatic for many survivors and leads to unjust outcomes;
The suit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs SurvJustice, Equal Rights Advocates, and Victim Rights Law Center by three national public interest organizations—Democracy Forward, the National Center for Youth Law, and the National Women’s Law Center.