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Litigating Title IX


Accusations of rape, sexual assault, harassment, stalking - men who faced disciplinary action from their colleges are now suing those institutions, in some cases, in class-action lawsuits. The litigation on Title IX has the potential to change the way sexual misconduct is treated on campus. The men are from Michigan State, the University of California and California State. Michelle Simpson Tuegel has represented both victims, as well as men accused of sexual assault, and she joins me now from Dallas, Texas. Welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, remind us what Title IX is.

SIMPSON TUEGEL: Sure. So really Title IX was an educational amendment that is now several decades old from 1972. But in the past couple of decades, it has been interpreted and expanded a lot to also protect students, both male and female, from sexual violence, sexual harassment, stalking. Anything that could fall into the category of gender-based discrimination and sexual violence is something that Title IX is also sort of the umbrella federal law over.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: From what I've read, some of the men say that the reason that they want to undertake this kind of lawsuit is because when you have a judgment against you under Title IX, it can have ramifications for the rest of your life. Is that essentially what they're saying?

SIMPSON TUEGEL: I mean, that is one thing they're saying. And having represented a lot of survivors, I can't help but also think and say that it is a much more severe and horrific impact if you've been the victim of sexual violence. That being said, I definitely think that what these men are saying is we didn't get a fair shot. The process wasn't fair. And sometimes, what they're also asking through these lawsuits is for the federal courts to step in and change the results or order the school to conduct the investigation in a different way. And that's part of what some of these class actions are asking for.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But what is likely to happen if the men succeed and these lawsuits gain class-action status? I mean, could it upend how these cases are treated?

SIMPSON TUEGEL: I mean, if they did gain class-action status, which I personally think is pretty steep thing for them to get, I think that it could result in a lot of these either being kicked back to the school and these students and the survivors having to go through all of this again, and it also has a wider reaching impact as far as what students who are going through these circumstances see and think as far as reporting. And that's one of the things that I see as a concern.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. What message does it send to the victims?

SIMPSON TUEGEL: Right. What message does it send to the victims who have already been a minority of people who report, and because the school didn't do it the right way, that their situation is not validated. And I do think that it can have a real chilling impact on other survivors reporting and coming forward and saying, as we have said in recent years, #MeToo because they think it just may come back and not matter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I want to ask you, Title IX has been in the news for a while now, especially in the wake of #MeToo, as you mentioned. It's also become very political. Do you see Title IX as the best tool for this kind of process? Or is it one that has been overused and should be replaced with something else?

SIMPSON TUEGEL: I think that it has its place and that we have to have some sort of process on campus. I'll give you an example as to why. Our court systems - I believe in lawsuits and the power of lawsuits and the power of citizens having a right to go into a court and to seek a legal remedy, whether it be monetary or otherwise. That being said, that process is often not fast enough for students who are on campus who maybe have to live in the same dorm with their perpetrator or have to go to the same class with the person who sexually assaulted them. We have to have some measure to deal with that. And while I respect how important due process is, there has to be a balance. And I don't think we have to trade one for the other.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michelle Simpson Tuegel is a sexual abuse attorney in Dallas, Texas. Thank you very much.

SIMPSON TUEGEL: Thank you, Lulu, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.