Has the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights put universities on notice that indifference to online harassment could result in liability under Title IX?

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From the Title IX Blog:

… The Department of Education addressed for the first time whether schools could violate Title IX by failing to respond appropriately to sexual harassment on-line, according to advocacy group Security On Campus.

The agency was adjudicating charges that Hofstra University did not adequately protect a female student from sexual assault that followed a barrage of sexual harassing comments about her on a now-defunct gossip website called Juicy Campus. Though the agency did not find sufficient facts to determine that Hofstra was deliberately indifferent to the harassment the student was facing, it did emphasize that schools have the same responsibility to respond to internet harassment as it does to harassment that is spoken or posted on the physical campus. …

But see this article in the Chron, which reports:

The nonprofit group Security on Campus issued a news release this week about a U.S. Department of Education ruling that it said held institutions responsible under Title IX for responding to sexual harassment on the Internet. But the department says the ruling does not have those implications.

The ruling came out of the department’s Office for Civil Rights in New York, which investigated Hofstra University, after a student complained the institution did not “appropriately address” her complaints about peers who made sexually explicit and sexist comments about her on the now-defunct gossip Web site JuicyCampus.

According to a letter sent to the student’s lawyer, Wendy Murphy, who is also a board member of the nonprofit, the office had “jurisdictional authority to investigate this complaint under Title IX,” but found “insufficient evidence to conclude that the university failed to respond appropriately.”

Ms. Murphy said the ruling indicated institutions could be similarly investigated or held responsible for violations of Title IX or sexual harassment on the Internet in the future.

Jim Bradshaw, a representative from the Office for Civil Rights, said the office “would not characterize this as a “landmark ruling.”   He said the office found insufficient evidence of a violation of Title IX, and the findings should not be “interpreted beyond those parameters.”

Did Security on Campus get it wrong, or did the Dept of Ed’s OCR change its mind?

–Ann Bartow

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2 Responses to Has the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights put universities on notice that indifference to online harassment could result in liability under Title IX?

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