Colorado joins multistate lawsuit defending state’s current campus sex assault policies from weaker federal rules
June 4, 2020 (DENVER, Colo.)—Attorney General Phil Weiser today joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit defending our institutions of higher education from the U.S. Department of Education’s rollback of sex assault policies which will weaken protections for sexual assault and harassment victims.
“The federal government’s new rule threatens to discourage reporting and weaken protections for victims provided under Colorado law,” Weiser said. “In Colorado, our effective policies and procedures should be allowed to remain in place, without the federal government’s looming threat—in the midst of a pandemic—to revoke funding for our colleges and universities if they are not able to radically change their operations with minimal notice.”
In the lawsuit, the attorneys general assert that the new federal rule strips students of longstanding protections against sexual harassment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972’s mandate to prevent and remedy sex discrimination. The new rule also conflicts with federal and state statutes and U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
Nationally, nearly two thirds of both men and women will experience sexual harassment in colleges and universities. This chronic problem is vastly underreported and under-addressed, but instead of encouraging robust enforcement of Title IX’s antidiscrimination promise, the administration has violated key protections by discouraging reporting and sowing confusion on campuses across the country.
Additionally, the new rule will cause irreparable harm to students and institutions of higher education in Colorado and other states. Among other flaws, the Department’s new regulations:
- Narrow the protections for students and others by redefining “sexual harassment” to exclude a broad spectrum of discriminatory conduct from Title IX’s reach, arbitrarily excluding incidents of sexual harassment based on where they occur, and limiting when schools can respond to serious sexual misconduct;
- Require extensive and unnecessary new procedural requirements that will reduce the number of reports and investigations and undermine the ability of schools to provide a fair process to all students;
- Force schools to dismiss any reports of sexual harassment that happen outside the guidelines of the new rule, requiring schools to adopt parallel code of conduct provisions to keep their campuses safe, which will cause confusion and chill reporting; and
- Demand schools make significant changes by mid-August in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will require schools to bypass the mechanisms that allow students, parents, faculty, staff, and community members to help shape important school policies.
The complaint was led by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California, and was joined by the attorneys general of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
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