Civil Rights Division of DOJ Explains Title IX Protects Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Status, Bringing High-Stakes Showdown with Contrary State Laws One Step Closer

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division released a March 26, 2021 memorandum explaining the Division’s position that Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of transgender and sexual orientation status.  In so concluding, the Division seeks to expand to Title IX the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton Cnty., which held that Title VII’s definition of “sex” prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the employment context.  

 

The Division characterizes its advice as a supposed “starting point” for federal agencies.  But it is more than that—the DOJ “is charged with coordination of the implementation and enforcement of Title IX by Executive agencies.” As such, the Division’s guidance will be highly instructive to federal agencies—most (if not all) are likely to follow suit—as well as the courts. Continue reading “Civil Rights Division of DOJ Explains Title IX Protects Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Status, Bringing High-Stakes Showdown with Contrary State Laws One Step Closer”

OCR Provides Practical Pointers for Postsecondary Institutions to Meet Civil Rights Obligations In Distance Learning Environments

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently issued a FAQ in its continuing effort to address civil rights issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The new guidance focused on disability accommodations, Title IX, and harassment issues.

The overall message was to again remind postsecondary institutions to “stay the course” with their civil rights obligations.  Institutions must continue to engage in the interactive process and provide disability accommodations that do not fundamentally alter the academic program and/or are undue burdens.  Institutions must also continue to receive, investigate, and resolve harassment complaints.  Institutions should adapt their policies to the new distance learning environment, and, if they do, they must inform students, faculty, and staff of any changes.

OCR also offered practical advice for how institutions can meet their civil rights obligations (and take advantage of new technology in doing so):  Continue reading “OCR Provides Practical Pointers for Postsecondary Institutions to Meet Civil Rights Obligations In Distance Learning Environments”

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”