Burhans V. Yale: A New Wave in Title IX Cases

The epidemic of campus sexual assault has gained national attention in recent years, and student activists have been at the forefront of the work to reform schools’ complaint procedures, support survivors, and implement prevention programs. But change at an institutional level requires the commitment and courage of university administrators who are willing to address the problem and work with students to make change. Burhans v. Yale highlights the necessity of protecting those administrators from professional retaliation, and AAUW is proud to support the case through our Legal Advocacy Fund.

The Story Behind the Burhans Case

Susan Burhans was hired by Yale University in 1999 as a communications specialist and served the university as a security education coordinator. In 2012, Burhans filed suit against Yale, alleging sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and other laws. Burhans claims she was discriminated against and eventually terminated after years of attempting to help survivors of sexual assault on campus and alert Yale to potential Title IX violations.

Although campus sexual assault has always been a serious problem, the issue did not gain national attention until recently. Long before much of the country — and many campus administrators — understood the severity of the problem, Burhans recognized some of the issues on Yale’s campus. She says that over the course of more than 10 years as a Yale employee, she tried repeatedly to notify Yale’s administration of potential Title IX violations stemming from the university’s sexual assault complaint procedures and to help student survivors access justice. Burhans claims that rather than address her concerns, the administration ignored her warnings and severely retaliated against her, narrowing her authority, humiliating her, and eventually terminating her position.

The case was filed in federal court in Connecticut. AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund began supporting the case in 2015.

Why Burhans Matters

In order to keep students safe and fulfill Title IX’s promise of equity in education, educators and administrators must step forward. The fact that Title IX helps protect students from campus sexual assault means little if administrators face retaliation for trying to enforce that protection. Employees like Burhans who speak out must be supported and empowered to make change on their campuses.

Burhans v. Yale represents a new wave of significant Title IX cases. In recent years, many administrators and victims’ advocates have faced retaliation for trying to protect their students and ensure that their schools comply with Title IX — in other words, for trying to do their jobs. Burhans’ case highlights the crucial role that campus administrators play in preventing campus sexual assault and the importance of supporting administrators of conscience.

AAUW Members and Supporters Make It Possible

The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund has been crucial to the success of many gender discrimination cases during its 33-year history. The case support program provides financial and organizational backing for plaintiffs who are challenging gender discrimination in education and the workplace. The funds come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members.