Know Your Rights at Work: Tenure, Title VII, and Title IX

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Although the laws that prohibit gender discrimination in employment and education are decades old, women faculty still face gender discrimination on campus. Today, non-tenure track appointments account for more than 70 percent of appointments for instructors in higher education, and women are less likely to achieve a tenure-track position than their male counterparts.

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 provide protection against gender discrimination in the context of tenure. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, as well as race, color, national origin, and religion. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, covering women and men, girls and boys, and staff and students in any educational institution or program that receives federal funds.

If you think you are facing gender discrimination in the tenure process, this resource will help you understand your options to take action.

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Which laws apply to me as a faculty member?

Under federal law, you are protected against discrimination by Title VII and Title IX.

Title VII makes it unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of her or his sex. Title VII applies to private and public colleges and universities and generally to federal, local, or state organizations with 15 or more employees.

Title IX makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of gender or gender identity against any staff member or student in education programs or activities that receive federal funding. Although most public and private colleges and universities do receive federal funding, there are a few private colleges that do not receive any federal financial assistance. Title IX does not apply to those private institutions, their employees, or their students.

Both Title VII and Title IX protect faculty members from gender discrimination during the hiring process, termination, promotion considerations, job training, or any other condition or privilege of employment.

Additionally, some states have adopted stronger protections against sexual harassment beyond Title VII and Title IX. For more information, check your state’s relevant laws or contact an employment lawyer in your state.

Can my employer punish me after I complain about gender discrimination?

No. Title VII and Title IX forbid employers from retaliating against you if you file a charge of or speak out against gender discrimination. These laws also protect you from retaliation if you choose to participate in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing on behalf of a co-worker who you believe has had her or his rights violated under Title VII and Title IX.

Where can I file a formal complaint if I believe my tenure was denied because of sex discrimination? Can I file a lawsuit?

You have several options. You have the right to file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) under Title VII. You also have the right to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under Title IX. The EEOC and OCR processes are completely separate, and you can choose to do one, both, or neither.

Although you likely have the right to file a lawsuit under Title VII, you need to file a complaint with the EEOC first. Separately, you can also file a lawsuit under Title IX whether or not you file a complaint with the OCR.

If I’m not sure that I want to file a formal complaint, what steps can I take to protect myself?

1.Keep a record of any perceived discrimination. Write down the date, time, and place of the incident as soon as possible. Include what was said and who was there. Keep a copy of these notes at home; they will be useful if you decide to file a complaint with your company or take legal action.

2.Keep doing a good job and keep a record of your work. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show that you do a good job at work. Your boss may criticize your job performance later on in order to defend her or his discrimination.

3.Talk to your school’s Title IX coordinator. Every school that receives federal funding is required to designate at least one Title IX coordinator. The name(s) and contact information of each Title IX coordinator should be listed on the school’s webpage. Find out who that person is and discuss any questions or problems you may have with her or him.

4.Check your school’s employee handbook. Your school may have a designated equal employment opportunity officer in charge of addressing gender discrimination complaints. At the very least, the handbook may outline the process for filing an internal complaint.

5.Speak to the EEOC counselor. You can contact the EEOC to speak with a counselor about your legal rights whether you choose to file a claim or not. The EEOC may investigate and/or offer mediation services to help resolve the complaint.

6.Keep timing in mind. You generally have 180 days (six months) from the date of the discriminatory activity to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC or file a complaint with OCR.

7.Seek support from friends and family. Discrimination at work is a difficult thing to face alone, and the process of fighting discrimination can be very stressful.

What should I do if I believe I have a claim under Title VII?

If you believe you have a Title VII claim, you have the right to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing many anti-discrimination laws. But don’t wait to file your complaint! In most cases you have 180 days from the date of the discriminatory activity to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC in order to preserve your rights. You do not need an attorney to file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC’s website will help you with instructions on filing a charge.

What will the EEOC do after I have filed a charge of discrimination?

After you have filed a complaint, the EEOC will notify your employer that you have filed a charge of discrimination and will begin an investigation into your complaint. The EEOC may then a take a number of different paths. First, it may attempt to settle your complaint or refer you and your employer to a mediator. Second, if the EEOC is unable to reach a settlement that both parties agree on, and the defendant is a private employer, the EEOC may file a lawsuit in federal court. Finally, the EEOC may also choose to simply dismiss the charge. When a charge is dismissed, or if the EEOC is unable to reach an agreement to settle the complaint, the EEOC will issue a notice to you advising you of your right to sue in court. This notice is called a right-to-sue letter. If you want to file a lawsuit before the EEOC completes its process, you may request a right-to-sue letter.

How can I file a formal Title IX complaint with OCR?

You can file a complaint with OCR by filling out an electronic complaint form found on the OCR’s website.

I think I need legal assistance. Where can I go?

For more information about finding legal help, read the LAF guide to legal resources.

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