- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Sues Secretary DeVos over Regulations That Weaken Protections for Survivors of Sexual Assault and Harassment
Boston — Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 18 state attorneys general in suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over new restrictions to Title IX designed to weaken protections for sexual assault and harassment survivors.
In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, the attorneys general assert that the U.S. Department of Education’s new rule strips students of longstanding protections against sexual harassment in violation of Title IX’s mandate to prevent and remedy sex discrimination. The regulations also create onerous disciplinary proceedings that threaten to chill reporting and make it more difficult for schools to ensure equitable access to and participation in education programs and activities.
“Survivors of sexual assault and harassment deserve to have their voices heard and to be protected at our educational institutions,” said AG Healey. “We will not stand by as Betsy DeVos abandons students who seek a safe learning environment free from violence and discrimination.”
The new rule, effective August 14 of this year, comes at a time when schools are grappling with the fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic. The rule will force schools to devote scarce resources to its implementation— distracting them from critical needs like remote learning and reopening plans for the fall.
According to the complaint, certain procedural, investigation, and hearing requirements, in the new rule threaten to chill the reporting of sexual harassment and make it harder for schools to reach fair outcomes as they investigate complaints.
The attorneys general allege that the new Title IX rule will cause irreparable harm to primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools in Massachusetts and other states and the students they serve. Specifically, the Department’s new regulations will:
- Narrow protections for students and others by redefining “sexual harassment” to exclude a broad spectrum of discriminatory conduct from Title IX’s reach, arbitrarily excluding incidents of sexual harassment based on where they occur, and limiting when schools can respond to serious sexual misconduct;
- Require extensive and unnecessary new procedural requirements that will reduce the number of reports and investigations and undermine the ability of schools to provide a fair process to all students;
- Force schools to dismiss any reports of sexual harassment that happen outside the guidelines of the new rule, requiring schools to adopt parallel code of conduct provisions and processes to keep their campuses safe;
- Demand schools make significant changes by mid-August in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will require many schools to bypass the mechanisms that allow students, parents, faculty, staff, and community members to help shape important school policies.
The attorneys general are asking the court to stop the rule from going into effect and postpone the effective date pending the court’s decision.
AG Healey has previously pushed back against changes to Title IX regulations. In 2019, AG Healey condemned the Department’s proposed rule and outlined several issues with the proposal. In 2017, AG Healey joined 20 other state AGs in submitting a letter opposing proposed changes to the Title IX process, and AG Healey has repeatedly spoken out against previous changes to the Title IX process.
The complaint was led by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California, and was also joined by Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
This matter is being handled in Massachusetts by Child and Youth Protection Director Angela Brooks, Civil Rights Chief Abigail Taylor, and Assistant Attorney General Abrisham Eshghi.