Arkansas Passes Law Prohibiting Biologically Male Students from Participating in Female Sports

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act (“FWSA”) on March 25, 2021.  Arkansas now joins Idaho (2020—enjoined by court order) and Mississippi (effective July 1, 2021) in passing a law prohibiting biologically male students from participating in female sports. (Click here for our coverage of those laws).

Summary of the FWSA

Who: The FWSA applies to public K-12 schools, open-enrollment public charter schools, and public 2-year and 4-year institutions of higher learning.  It also applies to Continue reading “Arkansas Passes Law Prohibiting Biologically Male Students from Participating in Female Sports”

Biden Issues Executive Order Regarding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination

As anticipated by our prior post, President Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office addressing gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. In doing so, President Biden is taking aim at dismantling the recently published Department of Education’s internal memorandum, which concluded Title IX’s protections against discrimination on the basis of “sex” do not generally extend to sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the order, Continue reading “Biden Issues Executive Order Regarding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination”

In One of Its Final Actions, Department of Education Releases Internal Memorandum Analyzing Title IX as it Relates to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

On January 8, 2021, the Department of Education (“Department”) publicly released a 13-page internal memorandum from the Department’s Office of the General Counsel to the Department’s Office for Civil Rights that sets forth an analysis of Title IX as it relates to sexual orientation and transgender status.  Specifically, the memo addresses the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton Cnty., 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020) on Title IX. Bostock held that the definition of “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, including transgender status.

The memo’s analysis focuses on 5 questions:

      1. Does the Bostock decision construe Title IX?
      2. Does Bostock affect the meaning of “sex” as that term is used in Title IX?
      3. How should OCR view allegations that a recipient targets individuals for discriminatory treatment on the basis of a person’s transgender status or homosexuality?
      4. After Bostock, how should OCR view allegations of employment discrimination or sexual harassment based on an individual’s transgender status or homosexuality?
      5. How does the Department interpret Title IX and its implementing regulations in light of Bostock with respect to athletics, intimate facilities, religious exemptions, and other sex-segregated programs or activities addressed under Title IX and its regulations?

The memo concludes Continue reading “In One of Its Final Actions, Department of Education Releases Internal Memorandum Analyzing Title IX as it Relates to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”

Title IX Final Rule

On May 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued the Final Rule on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) regulations. These are the first comprehensive regulations issued under Title IX since 1975.

The Final Rule goes into effect on Friday, August 14, 2020.  Its provisions will significantly impact K-12 school districts, colleges, and universities. The changes include: a definition for sexual harassment, requirement for publication of Title IX materials, triggers for an institution’s legal obligation to respond and investigate, and a requirement that institutions conduct courtroom-like hearings. Continue reading “Title IX Final Rule”

OCR Guidance on Disability Rights and Distance Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On April 3, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights continued its guidance on how institutions can implement distance learning while complying with federal civil rights laws. This guidance is timely because, as we all know, distance learning due to COVID-19 is redefining how most educational institutions operate. When all levels of academic institutions had to close their doors due to stay-at-home orders, many of them opened the proverbial window by turning to online education.  Despite its increasing popularity over the past decade or so, distance learning remains an emerging and potentially scary (as well as exciting) landscape for many institutions as they navigate purchasing/installing new technology, implementing new methods of teaching, and ensuring connectivity with students. OCR’s guidance provides a roadmap to this new territory.

In further response to some institutions declining to use distance learning at all because they were unsure of being able to provide a free and appropriate public education (K-12) or appropriate accommodations (postsecondary) to students with disabilities, OCR reiterated: Continue reading “OCR Guidance on Disability Rights and Distance Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Department of Education Issues Guidance on Safeguarding Civil Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic

As with all crises, this pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is forcing schools to quickly implement new policies and practices, often operating on limited information and without the usual procedural safeguards and vetting. Such an environment creates a risk of the unintended consequences of those new policies/procedures being overlooked, resulting in potentially discriminatory effects to students.

Recognizing this risk, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights published guidance on March 16, 2020, reminding schools that students’ civil rights must be safeguarded during responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. OCR’s guidance encourages schools to take measures to protect against COVID-19, but to do so in a manner that is free from discrimination and continues to accommodate people with disabilities.

The Department of Education focused on a few key areas as examples of potential pitfalls: Continue reading “Department of Education Issues Guidance on Safeguarding Civil Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic”

Million Dollar Settlements of Closed Captioning Website Accessibility Lawsuits Highlight Need for Dual Approach

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is seeking approval to pay $1,000,000+ in attorneys’ fees to settle a putative class action alleging MIT’s website was inaccessible to people with hearing difficulties.  See Nat’l Assoc. of the Deaf et al. v. Mass. Inst. of Tech., 3:15-cv-30024-KAR (D. Mass. filed Feb. 12, 2015).  This comes just months after Harvard University preliminarily settled a nearly identical lawsuit for $1.575 million.  See Nat’l Assoc. of the Deaf et al. v. Harvard Univ., 3:15-cv-30023-KAR (D. Mass. filed Feb. 12, 2015).  Neither university admits liability or wrongdoing in the settlement agreements.

The complaints alleged each university lacked adequate closed captioning of videos and audio tracks on publicly availably websites in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  They alleged the lack of captioning hindered the ability of individuals with hearing difficulties to fully and equally enjoy the services and goods offered to the public via the websites. The complaints alleged that closed captioning of such content was a reasonable accommodation. After motion practice, the courts agreed these allegations constituted viable claims under Section 504 and the ADA, and the parties proceeded into discovery before settling.

In the settlement agreements, the universities promised to: Continue reading “Million Dollar Settlements of Closed Captioning Website Accessibility Lawsuits Highlight Need for Dual Approach”