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Title IX Claims by Student-Athletes and Coaches

Congress passed a federal law called Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This law aims to ensure everyone gets equal education opportunities, regardless of sex. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) ensures schools follow Title IX regulations. Schools receiving federal financial assistance must follow these rules. High school and intercollegiate athletics programs are a big part of this.

Title IX ensures that everyone, regardless of sex, gets equal education opportunities, including sports. School officials, student-athletes, and coaches must understand Title IX and ensure they follow it. By understanding Title IX, everyone can help promote fairness in sports. Most Title IX claims involve university-sponsored sports, including intramural sports. Student-athletes may file claims of gender discrimination. Coaches and other staff may also file claims.

This article focuses on Title IX claims by student-athletes and coaches. See the Sexual Harassment section of FindLaw's Education Center to learn more about Title IX and related matters.

Student-Athletes' Title IX Claims

Title IX rules ensure equal athletic opportunities for students in schools. This involves everything from participation opportunities to athletic scholarships. It also includes access to locker rooms and practice times. Schools must have athletic programs that match the interests of the student body. They can't have disparities based on sex.

For example, the OCR looks at the proportion of male and female students. It weighs it against the athletic opportunities available to them. If half of the students in the school are girls, about half of the sports should be available for girls, too. This helps ensure gender equity in school athletic programs.

Let's say a women's team gets different treatment than a men's team. They might have worse practice times, smaller locker rooms, or lower per diem allowances. That could be a Title IX violation. If a student-athlete thinks their school is breaking Title IX rules, they can file a claim with the OCR or the school's Title IX coordinator.

A court's analysis will also depend on whether the plaintiff is a disgruntled student-athlete or a disgruntled employee. For disgruntled student-athletes, Title IX does not compel institutions to sponsor one program for each gender in every sport the institution sponsors. But if a school sponsors only one program for a sport, then that school must allow members of both sexes to try out for the team. This is true unless the sport is a contact sport, in which case the school may limit participation to one gender.

If a school sponsors only one program for a contact sport and allows members of both sexes to compete for the team, the school may not exclude an athlete from the team because of their gender. Contact sports include boxing, wrestling, rugby, ice hockey, football, and basketball.

Judges are more likely to find a school responsible for breaking Title IX rules when the actions or comments come from a coach or someone working for the school directly. When it is about a student or athlete bullying another student, it is harder to win this case.

In these situations, the person making the claim must show more than just that the school knew about the bullying and could have stopped it. They also have to prove that the bullying was bad, happened often, and was clearly wrong. This comes from the legal case from 1999, Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Ed. If the harassment is from fans, athletes, or coaches from another school, it might not lead to a Title IX case against the victim's school.

Sexual Harassment Claims Under Title IX

Disgruntled students may also allege they have been victims of sexual harassment in violation of Title IX. Sexual harassment typically consists of receiving unwanted sexually oriented comments. It also includes unwanted sexually oriented physical contact. Working in a sexually charged environment is also harassment. The threshold of liability is higher for sexual harassment than it is for sex discrimination.

To win a Title IX sexual harassment case, the person making the claim must prove a few things. They must show that the school knew about the harassment. The school must have had control over the person who made the harassment claim and the place where the harassment happened. The harassment must also have been severe enough to stop the victim from getting the same chance to join an athletic program. In other words, mere name-calling or teasing would not give rise to a Title IX claim.

Coaches' Title IX Claims

Coaches have rights under Title IX. For example, if a women's team coach gets paid less than a men's team coach for doing the same job, it might be a Title IX issue. This kind of disparity can be discrimination on the basis of sex. Title IX protects against this, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Coaches can also file a claim if they see the school is not giving athletic opportunities to their teams. They may notice the scheduling of games favoring female athletes. Or, they may notice there are inequities in competitive facilities. If coaches see these issues, they can also file a Title IX claim.

Title IX is a law that says you cannot treat people differently because of their sex in education programs and activities. This law also covers people who work for these programs. So, anyone who works for a sports program at a school that gets federal money has protections from Title IX. This law protects workers in all parts of their jobs. This includes when they get hired and how much they get paid. It also includes promotions or demotions. It also covers suspensions and firings. It does not matter what job the worker does. It also does not matter whether the school is a small elementary school or a large NCAA Division I university. Title IX protections cover all workers at these schools.

Many coaches have made Title IX complaints about job discrimination. Often, these complaints come from a head coach of a women's team who is getting paid less than the head coach of the men's team. Both teams play the same sport and are at the same school.

When judges look at these complaints, they think about a few things:

  • The different amounts of money the coaches get paid
  • How long the coaches' contracts last
  • The rules about renewing the contracts
  • The actual duties of each coach
  • The working conditions
  • The coaches' professional reputations
  • Other job rules and conditions
  • Other professional qualifications the coaches might have

These factors help the judge decide whether the school mistreats a coach.

Addressing Title IX Violations

When a school gets a Title IX claim, they must look into it. This law, part of the United States Code (U.S.C.), is not just about enrollment in schools or giving financial aid. It also ensures students get fair treatment in sports teams in school (interscholastic) and outside. Schools should follow a policy interpretation that values fairness and equal rights. A school needs to address the claim properly to keep federal funds. Schools can also face legal action. The NCAA and the U.S. Department of Education also have rules to ensure schools follow Title IX.

Title IX mandates also cover underrepresented sexes in sports. If a school underrepresents one sex in a sport, it must take steps to fix this. This helps ensure that women athletes and men athletes get the same chances to play and compete.

Getting Legal Help with a Title IX Claim

If a student-athlete or coach has a Title IX claim, it's a good idea to get legal help. A lawyer can guide you through the process. You can make sure the school or school district follows the correct procedures. Lawyers can help understand the eligibility rules for athletic scholarships, secondary schools, and varsity sports. They can help protect the athletic interests of women's sports and women's programs.

Talk to an education lawyer about your potential claim today.

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