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 in academia still often face 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 sex 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 all staff and students in any educational institution or program that receives federal funds.

If you think you may be facing sex discrimination in the tenure process, this resource will help navigate the relevant federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination in academia.

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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 based on sex. The law applies to private and public colleges and universities, as well as federal, local, and state organizations and businesses with 15 or more employees. Additionally, Title IX makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex against any staff member or student in educational programs or activities that receive federal funding, as most colleges and universities do.

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

Some states have adopted protections against sex discrimination in addition to those in Title VII and Title IX. For more information, check your state’s relevant laws.

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 complaint or take other action against sex discrimination in your workplace. 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 his or her rights violated under Title VII and/or 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 the right to file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII or with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under Title IX.

If you want to file a civil lawsuit instead, for Title VII, you would need to file a complaint with the EEOC first. For Title IX, you do not need to file an initial complaint with 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, and be sure to include what was said and who was there. Keep a copy of these notes at home, as they will be useful if you file a complaint with your company or decide to take legal action.

2. Maintain records of your work. Continue to perform your job well. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that demonstrate your good performance. Your boss may try to defend discriminatory actions by criticizing your job performance. These records will provide evidence to dispute these criticisms.

3. Check your school’s employee handbook. Your school may have a designated Equal Employment Opportunity Officer in charge of addressing discrimination complaints. At the very least, the handbook may outline the process for filing an internal complaint.

4. Connect with the right person. Every school that receives federal funding is required to designate a Title IX coordinator. This is the person to talk to about your complaint. Use AAUW’s Title IX coordinator locator tool and make an appointment to discuss any questions or problems you may have.

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

6. Keep timing in mind. Under Title VII, in general, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place (for example, your last paycheck) in order to preserve your legal rights. The deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency, known as a Fair Employment Practice Agency (“FEPA”), enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. Under Title IX, you need to file a complaint with the Department of Education within 180 days of the last act of discrimination, if you choose to go this route. If you file late the Department of Education will consider a waiver, but you will be asked to show good cause why you did not file your complaint within the 180-day period. You have more time, though it varies by state, if you decide to pursue a lawsuit under Title IX.

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 think you have a Title VII claim, you have the right to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC, the federal agency charged with enforcing many anti-discrimination laws. But you need to file in a timely manner.

Under Title VII, in general, you have 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place (for example, your last paycheck) to file a complaint. The deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a FEPA, a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. You do not need an attorney to file a complaint with the EEOC, and the EEOC’s website provides instructions on filing a charge.

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

After you have filed a charge of discrimination, the EEOC will notify your employer of your complaint and begin an investigation. The EEOC may then take a number of different paths to try to reach a resolution:

• The EEOC may attempt to settle your complaint or may refer you and your employer to a mediator.
• If you are unable to reach a mutually agreed-upon settlement, and the defendant is a private employer, the EEOC may file a lawsuit in federal court.
• Finally, the EEOC may simply choose to dismiss the charge or issue you a “right to sue” letter, which will formally notify you of your right to sue in court.

If you decide to file a lawsuit before the EEOC completes its process, you may request a “right to sue” letter earlier on.

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 OCR’s website.. Any person, including a student, teacher, coach, parent, or community member, who believes that an institution has discriminated on the basis of sex may report the suspected violation to OCR. You do not need to have experienced the discrimination directly in order to report it.

OCR may then investigate the complaint and determine whether the institution violated Title IX. If OCR does find violations of Title IX, it will then attempt to work with the institution to bring the institution into compliance. OCR has the authority to seek termination of an institution’s federal funding if the institution refuses to comply.

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

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

For more information about finding legal help, read the Legal Advocacy Fund’s guide to legal resources.

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