Summary of Major Provisions of the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX Final Rule

Source: U.S. Department of Education The Title IX Final Rule: Addressing Sexual Harassment in Schools

This Policy is designed to address conduct that falls within Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and other federal and state laws and regulations. This Policy addresses misconduct occurring on or after August 14, 2020.

  1. Notice to the School, College, University (“Schools”): Actual Knowledge
    The Final Rule requires a K-12 school to respond whenever any employee has notice of sexual harassment, including allegations of sexual harassment.  Many state laws also require all K-12 employees to be mandatory reporters of child abuse.  For postsecondary institutions, the Final Rule allows the institution to choose whether to have mandatory reporting for all employees, or to designate some employees to be confidential resources for college students to discuss sexual harassment without automatically triggering a report to the Title IX office.  For all schools, notice to a Title IX Coordinator, or to an official with authority to institute corrective measures on the recipient's behalf, charges a school with actual knowledge and triggers the school's response obligations.
  1. Definition of Sexual Harassment for Title IX Purposes
    The Final Rule defines sexual harassment broadly to include any of three types of misconduct on the basis of sex, all of which jeopardize the equal access to education that Title IX is designed to protect: Any instance of quid pro quo harassment by a school's employee; any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access; any instance of sexual assault (as defined in the Clery Act), dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking as defined in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
    • The Final Rule prohibits sex-based misconduct in a manner consistent with the First Amendment. Quid pro quo harassment and Clery Act/VAWA offenses are not evaluated for severity, pervasiveness, offensiveness, or denial of equal educational access, because such misconduct is sufficiently serious to deprive a person of equal access.
    • The Final Rule uses the U.S. Supreme Court 's Davis definition (severe and pervasive and objectively offensive conduct, effectively denying a person equal educational access) as one of the three categories of sexual harassment, so that where unwelcome sex-based conduct consists of speech or expressive conduct, schools balance Title IX enforcement with respect for free speech and academic freedom.
    • The Final Rule uses the Supreme Court’s Title IX-specific definition rather than the Supreme Court's Title VII workplace standard (severe or pervasive conduct creating a hostile work environment). First Amendment concerns differ in educational environments and workplace environments, and the Title IX definition provides First Amendment protections appropriate for educational institutions where students are learning, and employees are teaching. Students, teachers, faculty, and others should enjoy free speech and academic freedom protections, even when speech or expression is offensive.
  1. Sexual Harassment Occurring in a School’s Education Program or Activity and in the United States
    The Title IX statute applies to persons in the United States with respect to education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Under the Final Rule, schools must respond when sexual harassment occurs in the school’s education program or activity, against a person in the United States.
    • The Title IX statute and existing regulations contain broad definitions of a school’s “program or activity” and the Department will continue to look to these definitions for the scope of a school’s education program or activity. Education program or activity includes locations, events, or circumstances over which the school exercised substantial control over both the respondent and the context in which the sexual harassment occurred, and also includes any building owned or controlled by a student organization that is officially recognized by a postsecondary institution.
    • Title IX applies to all of a school’s education programs or activities, whether such programs or activities occur on-campus or off-campus. A school may address sexual harassment affecting its students or employees that falls outside Title IX’s jurisdiction in any manner the school chooses, including providing supportive measures or pursuing discipline.
  1. Accessible Reporting to Title IX Coordinator
    The Final Rule expands a school’s obligations to ensure its educational community knows how to report to the Title IX Coordinator.
    • The employee designated by a recipient to coordinate its efforts to comply with Title IX responsibilities must be referred to as the “Title IX Coordinator.”
    • Instead of notifying only students and employees of the Title IX Coordinator’s contact information, the school must also notify applicants for admission and employment, parents or legal guardians of elementary and secondary school students, and all unions, of the name or title, office address, e-mail address, and telephone number of the Title IX Coordinator.
    • Schools must prominently display on their websites the required contact information for the Title IX Coordinator.
    • Any person may report sex discrimination, including sexual harassment (whether or not the person reporting is the person alleged to be the victim of conduct that could constitute sex discrimination or sexual harassment), in person, by mail, by telephone, or by e-mail, using the contact information listed for the Title IX Coordinator, or by any other means that results in the Title IX Coordinator receiving the person’s verbal or written report.
    • Such a report may be made at any time, including during non-business hours, by using the telephone number or e-mail address, or by mail to the office address, listed for the Title IX Coordinator.
  1. School’s Mandatory Response Obligations: The Deliberate Indifference Standard
    Schools must respond promptly to Title IX sexual harassment in a manner that is not deliberately indifferent, which means a response that is not clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances. Schools have the following mandatory response obligations: - Schools must offer supportive measures to the person alleged to be the victim (referred to as the “complainant”).
    • The Title IX Coordinator must promptly contact the complainant confidentially to discuss the availability of supportive measures, consider the complainant’s wishes with respect to supportive measures, inform the complainant of the availability of supportive measures with or without the filing of a formal complaint, and explain to the complainant the process for filing a formal complaint.
    • Schools must follow a grievance process that complies with the Final Rule before the imposition of any disciplinary sanctions or other actions that are not supportive measures, against a respondent.
    • Schools must not restrict rights protected under the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment, when complying with Title IX.
    • The Final Rule requires a school to investigate sexual harassment allegations in any formal complaint, which can be filed by a complainant, or signed by a Title IX Coordinator.
    • The Final Rule affirms that a complainant’s wishes with respect to whether the school investigates should be respected unless the Title IX Coordinator determines that signing a formal complaint to initiate an investigation over the wishes of the complainant is not clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.
    • If the allegations in a formal complaint do not meet the definition of sexual harassment in the Final Rule, or did not occur in the school’s education program or activity against a person in the United States, the Final Rule clarifies that the school must dismiss such allegations for purposes of Title IX but may still address the allegations in any manner the school deems appropriate under the school’s own code of conduct.

School’s Mandatory Response Obligations: Defining Terms
When responding to sexual harassment (e.g., by offering supportive measures to a complainant and refraining from disciplining a respondent without following a Title IX grievance process, which includes investigating formal complaints of sexual harassment), the Final Rule provides clear definitions of complainant, respondent, formal complaint, and supportive measures so that recipients, students, and employees clearly understand how a school must respond to sexual harassment incidents in a way that supports the alleged victim and treats both parties fairly.

The Final Rule defines “complainant” as an individual who is alleged to be the victim of conduct that could constitute sexual harassment. - This clarifies that any third party as well as the complainant may report sexual harassment. - While parents and guardians do not become complainants (or respondents), the Final Rule expressly recognizes the legal rights of parents and guardians to act on behalf of parties (including by filing formal complaints) in Title IX matters.

The Final Rule defines “respondent” as an individual who has been reported to be the perpetrator of conduct that could constitute sexual harassment.

“Formal Complaint”
The Final Rule defines “formal complaint” as a document filed by a complainant or signed by the Title IX Coordinator alleging sexual harassment against a respondent and requesting that the school investigate the allegation of sexual harassment and states:

    • At the time of filing a formal complaint, a complainant must be participating in or attempting to participate in the education program or activity of the school with which the formal complaint is filed.
    • A formal complaint may be filed with the Title IX Coordinator in person, by mail, or by electronic mail, by using the contact information required to be listed for the Title IX Coordinator under the Final Rule, and by any additional method designated by the school.
    • The phrase “document filed by a complainant” means a document or electronic submission (such as by e-mail or through an online portal provided for this purpose by the school) that contains the complainant’s physical or digital signature, or otherwise indicates that the complainant is the person filing the formal complaint.
    • Where the Title IX Coordinator signs a formal complaint, the Title IX Coordinator is not a complainant or a party during a grievance process, and must comply with requirements for Title IX personnel to be free from conflicts and bias.

“Supportive Measures”

The Final Rule defines “supportive measures” as individualized services reasonably available that are non-punitive, non-disciplinary, and not unreasonably burdensome to the other party while designed to ensure equal educational access, protect safety, or deter sexual harassment.

    • The Final Rule evaluates a school’s selection of supportive measures and remedies based on what is not clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances, and does not second guess a school’s disciplinary decisions, but requires the school to offer supportive measures, and provide remedies to a complainant whenever a respondent is found responsible.
  1. Grievance Process, General Requirements
    The Final Rule prescribes a consistent, transparent grievance process for resolving formal complaints of sexual harassment. Aside from hearings (see Issue #9 below), the grievance process prescribed by the Final Rule applies to all schools equally including K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions. The Final Rule states that a school’s grievance process must:
    • Treat complainants equitably by providing remedies any time a respondent is found responsible, and treat respondents equitably by not imposing disciplinary sanctions without following the grievance process prescribed in the Final Rule.
    • Remedies, which are required to be provided to a complainant when a respondent is found responsible, must be designed to maintain the complainant’s equal access to education and may include the same individualized services described in the Final Rule as supportive measures; however, remedies need not be non-disciplinary or non-punitive and need not avoid burdening the respondent.
    • Require objective evaluation of all relevant evidence, inculpatory and exculpatory, and avoid credibility determinations based on a person’s status as a complainant, respondent, or witness.
    • Require Title IX personnel (Title IX Coordinators, investigators, decision-makers, people who facilitate any informal resolution process) to be free from conflicts of interest or bias for or against complainants or respondents.
    • Training of Title IX personnel must include training on the definition of sexual harassment in the Final Rule, the scope of the school’s education program or activity, how to conduct an investigation and grievance process including hearings, appeals, and informal resolution processes, as applicable, and how to serve impartially, including by avoiding prejudgment of the facts at issue, conflicts of interest, and bias.
    • A school must ensure that decision-makers receive training on any technology to be used at a live hearing.
    • A school’s decision-makers and investigators must receive training on issues of relevance, including how to apply the rape shield protections provided only for complainants.
    • Include a presumption that the respondent is not responsible for the alleged conduct until a determination regarding responsibility is made at the conclusion of the grievance process.
    • Recipients must post materials used to train Title IX personnel on their websites, if any, or make materials available for members of the public to inspect.
    • Include reasonably prompt timeframes for conclusion of the grievance process, including appeals and informal resolutions, with allowance for short-term, good cause delays or extensions of the timeframes.
    • Describe the range, or list, the possible remedies a school may provide a complainant and disciplinary sanctions a school might impose on a respondent, following determinations of responsibility.
    • State whether the school has chosen to use the preponderance of the evidence standard, or the clear and convincing evidence standard, for all formal complaints of sexual harassment (including where employees and faculty are respondents).
    • Describe the school’s appeal procedures, and the range of supportive measures available to complainants and respondents.
    • A school’s grievance process must not use, rely on, or seek disclosure of information protected under a legally recognized privilege, unless the person holding such privilege has waived the privilege.
    • Any provisions, rules, or practices other than those required by the Final Rule that a school adopts as part of its grievance process for handling formal complaints of sexual harassment, must apply equally to both parties.
  1. Investigations
    The Final Rule states that the school must investigate the allegations in any formal complaint and send written notice to both parties (complainants and respondents) of the allegations upon receipt of a formal complaint. During the grievance process and when investigating:
    • The burden of gathering evidence and burden of proof must remain on schools, not on the parties.
    • Schools must provide equal opportunity for the parties to present fact and expert witnesses and other inculpatory and exculpatory evidence.
    • Schools must not restrict the ability of the parties to discuss the allegations or gather evidence (e.g., no “gag orders”).
    • Parties must have the same opportunity to select an advisor of the party’s choice who may be, but need not be, an attorney.
    • Schools must send written notice of any investigative interviews, meetings, or hearings.
    • Schools must send the parties, and their advisors, evidence directly related to the allegations, in electronic format or hard copy, with at least 10 days for the parties to inspect, review, and respond to the evidence.
    • Schools must send the parties, and their advisors, an investigative report that fairly summarizes relevant evidence, in electronic format or hard copy, with at least 10 days for the parties to respond.
    • Schools must dismiss allegations of conduct that do not meet the Final Rule’s definition of sexual harassment or did not occur in a school’s education program or activity against a person in the U.S. Such dismissal is only for Title IX purposes and does not preclude the school from addressing the conduct in any manner the school deems appropriate.
    • Schools may, in their discretion, dismiss a formal complaint or allegations therein if the complainant informs the Title IX Coordinator in writing that the complainant desires to withdraw the formal complaint or allegations therein, if the respondent is no longer enrolled or employed by the school, or if specific circumstances prevent the school from gathering sufficient evidence to reach a determination.
    • Schools must give the parties written notice of a dismissal (mandatory or discretionary) and the reasons for the dismissal.
    • Schools may, in their discretion, consolidate formal complaints where the allegations arise out of the same facts.
    • The Final Rule protects the privacy of a party’s medical, psychological, and similar treatment records by stating that schools cannot access or use such records unless the school obtains the party’s voluntary, written consent to do so.
  1. Hearings
    The Final Rule adds provisions to the “live hearing with cross-examination” requirement for postsecondary institutions and clarifies that hearings are optional for K-12 schools (and any other recipient that is not a postsecondary institution).
    1. Live Hearings and Cross-Examination for Postsecondary Institutions
      For postsecondary institutions, the school’s grievance process must provide for a live hearing:
      • At the live hearing, the decision-maker(s) must permit each party’s advisor to ask the other party and any witnesses all relevant questions and follow-up questions, including those challenging credibility.
      • Such cross-examination at the live hearing must be conducted directly, orally, and in real time by the party’s advisor of choice and never by a party personally.
      • At the request of either party, the recipient must provide for the entire live hearing (including cross-examination) to occur with the parties located in separate rooms with technology enabling the parties to see and hear each other.
      • Only relevant cross-examination and other questions may be asked of a party or witness. Before a complainant, respondent, or witness answers a cross-examination or other question, the decision-maker must first determine whether the question is relevant and explain to the party’s advisor asking cross-examination questions any decision to exclude a question as not relevant.
      • If a party does not have an advisor present at the live hearing, the school must provide, without fee or charge to that party, an advisor of the school’s choice who may be, but is not required to be, an attorney to conduct cross-examination on behalf of that party.
      • If a party or witness does not submit to cross-examination at the live hearing, the decision-maker(s) must not rely on any statement of that party or witness in reaching a determination regarding responsibility; provided, however, that the decision-maker(s) cannot draw an inference about the determination regarding responsibility based solely on a party’s or witness’s absence from the live hearing or refusal to answer cross-examination or other questions.
      • Live hearings may be conducted with all parties physically present in the same geographic location or, at the school’s discretion, any or all parties, witnesses, and other participants may appear at the live hearing virtually.
      • Schools must create an audio or audiovisual recording, or transcript, of any live hearing.

    2. Rape Shield Protections for Complainants
      The Final Rule provides rape shield protections for complainants (as to all recipients whether postsecondary institutions, K-12 schools, or others), deeming irrelevant questions and evidence about a complainant’s prior sexual behavior unless offered to prove that someone other than the respondent committed the alleged misconduct or offered to prove consent.
  1. Standard of Evidence & Written Determination
    The Final Rule requires the school’s grievance process to state whether the standard of evidence to determine responsibility is the preponderance of the evidence standard or the clear and convincing evidence standard. The Final Rule makes each school’s grievance process consistent by requiring each school to apply the same standard of evidence for all formal complaints of sexual harassment whether the respondent is a student or an employee (including faculty member).
    • The decision-maker (who cannot be the same person as the Title IX Coordinator or the investigator) must issue a written determination regarding responsibility with findings of fact, conclusions about whether the alleged conduct occurred, rationale for the result as to each allegation, any disciplinary sanctions imposed on the respondent, and whether remedies will be provided to the complainant.
    • The written determination must be sent simultaneously to the parties along with information about how to file an appeal.
  1. Appeals
    The Final Rule states that a school must offer both parties an appeal from a determination regarding responsibility, and from a school’s dismissal of a formal complaint or any allegations therein, on the following bases: procedural irregularity that affected the outcome of the matter, newly discovered evidence that could affect the outcome of the matter, and/or Title IX personnel had a conflict of interest or bias, that affected the outcome of the matter.
    • A school may offer an appeal equally to both parties on additional bases.
  1. Informal Resolution
    The Final Rule allows a school, in its discretion, to choose to offer and facilitate informal resolution options, such as mediation or restorative justice, so long as both parties give voluntary, informed, written consent to attempt informal resolution. Any person who facilitates an informal resolution must be well trained. The Final Rule adds:
    • A school may not require as a condition of enrollment or continuing enrollment, or employment or continuing employment, or enjoyment of any other right, waiver of the right to a formal investigation and adjudication of formal complaints of sexual harassment. Similarly, a school may not require the parties to participate in an informal resolution process and may not offer an informal resolution process unless a formal complaint is filed.
    • At any time prior to agreeing to a resolution, any party has the right to withdraw from the informal resolution process and resume the grievance process with respect to the formal complaint.
    • Schools must not offer or facilitate an informal resolution process to resolve allegations that an employee sexually harassed a student.
  1. Retaliation Prohibited
    The Final Rule expressly prohibits retaliation.
    • Charging an individual with code of conduct violations that do not involve sexual harassment, but arise out of the same facts or circumstances as a report or formal complaint of sexual harassment, for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by Title IX constitutes retaliation.
    • The school must keep confidential the identity of complainants, respondents, and witnesses, except as may be permitted by FERPA, as required by law, or as necessary to carry out a Title IX proceeding.
    • Complaints alleging retaliation may be filed according to a school’s prompt and equitable grievance procedures.
    • The exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment does not constitute retaliation.
    • Charging an individual with a code of conduct violation for making a materially false statement in bad faith in the course of a Title IX grievance proceeding does not constitute retaliation; however, a determination regarding responsibility, alone, is not sufficient to conclude that any party made a bad faith materially false statement.