When can a Title IX civil lawsuit be filed against a college or university?

Under Title IX, your school must proactively prevent and respond to claims of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other forms of gender-based violence, retaliation, and discrimination. Title IX also requires your school to provide an impartial and prompt process for investigating and adjudicating reported cases. If you believe that your school has violated Title IX, you can file a civil lawsuit. The document filed to initiate a civil lawsuit is called a complaint. This differs from the type of complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights or the Human Rights Commission. A complaint filed in federal or state court starts a court process.

How can you file a civil lawsuit against your college or university?

You can represent yourself, but it would be very hard to do that. You can seek the advice of an attorney, and, if possible, work with an attorney to file your complaint and represent you in the lawsuit. In our Get Help section, we list Washington State legal services for survivors. You can contact those services for legal advice, possible representation, or referrals to other lawyers for civil lawsuits against your school. However, private attorneys also handle those cases, sometimes on what is called a “contingency fee” basis. That means that you do not pay up front for the lawyer’s work, and instead, if you win your lawsuit, the lawyer is paid a portion of the money that you receive. A typical contingency fee is approximately one third of the amount of money you get either in a settlement or after a trial. If you are unable to obtain an attorney, you can file your complaint without an attorney, which is known as proceeding “pro se.” Even if you are pro se, the court will still require you to follow all court rules, including filing your complaint in the right place, at the right time, and in the right format. You can find resources from the federal courts in Washington State for people filing complaints without the help of an attorney— here and here. You should also contact the clerk of the court before you file your complaint to make sure you are aware of all requirements that apply to you. You should understand that filling a lawsuit like this without an attorney would be very difficult.

What must be proved in a Title IX civil lawsuit?

In a Title IX civil lawsuit, you must prove that your school:

  • Knew or should have known about the sexual assault or sexual harassment, and
  • Did not investigate or handle the situation properly.

Who can file a civil lawsuit against a college or university?

Any student, former student, or the parents of a student or former student if the student is a minor, can file a lawsuit.

Why would I choose to file a civil lawsuit instead of a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights?

There are many reasons someone might want to go to court instead of going through an Office of Civil Rights complaint. As of this writing, OCR has a long backlog of complaints. And, because the Trump Administration has indicated that it plans to change how the Department of Education interprets Title IX, it is not clear how OCR will be handling complaints going forward. The courts, however, follow the law, and while they have to look at how the Department of Education interprets the law, they do not have to follow what the Department of Education says if they disagree with that interpretation of the law. Another reason someone might want to file a civil lawsuit is because the deadline for filing a lawsuit (in Washington State, three years after the events that harmed you) might be approaching before OCR has made a decision. If you do not file your lawsuit within the required time frame, you can lose the right to ever file it. If you are considering filing a Title IX lawsuit, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your rights and about what approach is best for you.

Is there a time limit for filing a Title IX civil lawsuit?

The statute of limitations is the time limit for filing a civil lawsuit. Once the time limit has passed, you may be barred from seeking remedy. The court in which a Title IX civil lawsuit is filed looks to that state’s statute of limitations. In Washington State, the timeline for statute of limitations is three years for civil lawsuits of this kind.

What can result from a Title IX lawsuit?

A successful Title IX civil lawsuit can result in monetary compensation for the student whose rights under Title IX were violated. The court may also require the college or university to change its policies and procedures or strengthen their guidelines for handling sexual assault or sexual harassment.

Suing Your College or University