More Businesses May Be Subject to Title IX for Student Employees and Interns

A recent federal court ruling may have the effect of making more businesses subject to expansive Title IX procedures and protections for their student employees or interns.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 provides “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 Expanding

Among many other applications, Title IX is the law upon which colleges and universities rely in enforcing policies prohibiting sexual violence and harassment, as we saw recently in the investigation of sexual assault allegations involving members of the University of Minnesota football team. Investigations into alleged Title IX violations are often cumbersome and lengthy due to significant procedural protections built into the process.

A new ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit may expand the application of those Title IX procedures to student-employees.  In that case, the appeals court determined that a private teaching hospital in Philadelphia was potentially liable under Title IX to a female former medical resident who claims she was sexually harassed by the director of her radiology residency program.  The hospital claimed that Title IX did not apply since they were not actually an educational institution.  The court disagreed, explaining that an entity can be considered an educational program under the law if it has “features such that one could reasonably consider its mission to be, at least in part, educational.”

Why Does This Matter?

As a result, teaching hospitals and any other business that employ student interns or persons in a dual student-employee role may now be covered under Title IX. Why does this matter since those institutions are covered under Title VII’s prohibitions against sex discrimination and sexual harassment anyway? For one thing, Title IX does not require an employee to first file an administrative charge with a government agency as is required under Title VII.  In addition, Title IX imposes certain training and procedural requirements that do not exist under Title VII, including a unique hearing process.

Perhaps the most singular aspect of Title IX is the requirement that each covered institution must appoint a Title IX Coordinator. A Title IX Coordinator is someone who is well versed in the education law and ensures an institution remains compliant with the law. The Title IX Coordinator also reviews the institution’s compliance program for patterns of inequity or other deficiencies.

Of course, decisions from other jurisdictions do not necessarily apply in Minnesota.  Still, courts all over the country look for guidance from other jurisdictions when faced with similar issues and Minnesota is no exception.   Therefore, on the basis of this new Third Circuit decision, teaching hospitals and any other business in Minnesota that employs student interns or students in a dual student-employee role should reassess their legal obligations to such individuals and decide whether they should make sure that Title IX procedures are effectuated.

Bottom Line

If you are an institution that might be affected by this ruling, do not despair that you have not been compliant.  The most critical aspect of Title IX compliance is the same as it is for staying safe under Title VII – conducting prompt and thorough investigations of any complaints of sex discrimination.

Title IX coverage just means that you will need to implement some new procedures and safeguards going forward.