College Sexual Harassment, Increasing Awareness

The Harman Firm is committed to regularly addressing and working to expose and prevent further sexual harassment on on college campuses.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” It is a remedial (rather than punitive) statute designed to eliminate financial participation of the federal government in illegal discrimination. Title VI claims cannot be brought against individual defendants as they do not receive federal funding. In college and university settings, Title VI has been invoked in racial and ethnic discrimination and harassment cases. It has also been used in affirmative action cases. Sexual harassment cases, however, are made using either Title IX or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Title IX was enacted by congress in the Education Amendments of 1972 and states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” Title IX is identical to Title VI, except that Title VI “prohibits race discrimination, not sex discrimination, and applies to all programs receiving federal funds.” The Supreme Court has held that “…”sexual harassment” is “discrimination” in the school context under Title IX…” Other courts have held that sexual discrimination cases against institutions receiving federal funds should be brought under Title IX, not under Title VI. “Because [Title VI] does not forbid sex discrimination, Plaintiffs’ Title VI claim against the Army is dismissed with prejudice.” “Indeed, the legislative history reveals that Title IX was designed to fill the gap left by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which did not prohibit discrimination based on sex.”

Title VII prohibits (with some exceptions) discrimination in employment situations based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It has been used successfully in cases relating to sexual harassment in the work place. “…the language of Title VII is not limited to “economic” or “tangible” discrimination… in 1980 the EEOC issued Guidelines specifying that “sexual harassment,” as there defined, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII.”

Title VI is applicable to racial and ethical harassment cases in college or university settings but for sexual harassment cases involving federally funded programs, Title VII or Title IX applies.

In recent years, much has been done to raise awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, and how to go about identifying and reporting such behavior. However, this practice still affects scores of workers, with more and more individuals reporting sexual harassment in an academic setting. Under Title IX, sexual harassment falls under discrimination in an academic setting. Harassment in an academic setting can take many of the same forms it does in a work environment — name calling, unwanted advances, touching, inappropriate conversation and more.

What makes sexual harassment in academia more difficult and problematic is that while harassment is defined as unwanted behavior, professors and administrators have a great degree of perceived power and control over students, making it often hard to achieve a true sense of consent. Professors, like employers and supervisors, can often take advantage of the relationship between student and teacher to get away with such unwanted sexual behavior.

Professors can make it seem as if willing participation in such activity is a requirement due to their relationship, and can often exert their influence in extreme ways. Their behavior is different from others on the street in that it is an exploitation of the expectations of the student/teacher relationship. This is further compounded by the fact that tenured professors often enjoy relative job security, and a high degree of professional respect.

Your Rights As a student, you have rights to ensure that you do not have to tolerate sexual harassment. No individual should be subjected to, or exploited by, sexual harassment as carried out by professors. Contact our office today to explore your rights and options for pursing your case.

The Harman Firm, LLP serves the New York metropolitan area including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Westchester, White Plains, Nassau and Suffolk Counties.