Given possible changes in federal enforcement of Title IX and the Clery Act under the Trump Administration, we strongly encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss whether or not to file a complaint.
Who Can File
Anyone who believes there has been an act of discrimination on the basis of sex against any person or group in a program or activity that receives ED financial assistance may file a complaint with OCR under Title IX. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may be affected by a general "hostile sexual environment" or complain on behalf of another person or group. A complaint should be sent to the OCR enforcement office that serves the state in which the alleged discrimination occurred. You can find the address, email and phone number of your local OCR enforcement office here.
When to File
A complaint must be filed within 180 days of the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended for good cause by the Enforcement Office Director. Prior to filing a complaint with OCR against an institution, a potential complainant may want to use his or her school's institutional grievance process to have the complaint resolved (though a complainant is not required by law to use the institutional grievance procedure before filing a complaint with OCR). If a complainant uses an institutional grievance process, his or her Title IX complaint must be filed with OCR within 60 days after the last act of the institutional grievance process.
What to Include
Complaint letters should explain who was discriminated against; in what way; by whom or by what institution or agency; when the discrimination took place; who was harmed; who can be contacted for further information; the name, address and telephone number of the complainant(s) and the alleged offending institution or agency; and as much background information as possible about the alleged discriminatory act(s). You will be asked for much identifying information, but remember that OCR keeps the identity of complainants confidential except to the extent necessary to carry out the purposes of the civil rights laws, or unless disclosure is required under the Freedom of Information Act or the Privacy Act (or otherwise required by law).
Title IX complaints are generally more formal than Clery complaints, and this should be reflected in the language use. This doesn’t necessarily mean resorting to legalese, but use formal language. Instead of writing a narrative, as you might to submit a Clery complaint, outline and describe each discriminatory action separately. Use as many specifics as you can. We encourage you to work with an attorney or organization to draft and review your complaint. (For more information on accessing this support, check out our resources here.) OCR enforcement offices also may be contacted for assistance in preparing complaints.
You can find a pre-prepared complaint form, along with some supplementary information and advice here. The form will ask you for various pieces of information, including:
- Your contact information
- Contact info for the institution you are filing your complaint against
- Whether you have previously tried to resolve your complaint, as through your school’s grievance process, a due process hearing or with another agency (for instance, through Clery)
- The content of your complaint; i.e. how your school violated your rights
- Whether you filed within 180 days and if not, why
- What you would like to see your school do as a result of your complaint
You will also be offered the opportunity to submit supplementary written materials that will add to or clarify your complaint.
Note: You do not have to use the form provided, and many successful complaints have been written using different formats. However, you may want to look at the PDF version of the form to find out what information needs to be included.
How to File
Title IX complaints are generally submit online, either through the electronic submission of the pre-prepared OCR complaint form or by email (OCR@ed.gov). However, you can submit your complaint, whether based on the online form or not, by snail mail.
Whether you file online or by mail, you will need to sign and mail a consent form to allow the OCR to process your complaint. This can be found in the PDF version of the complaint form, or if you are submitting electronically, will be given to you after you complete the form but before you press the final submit button.
If the OCR believes the information you provided is insufficient, they may contact you and ask for further details. Your addendums must be submitted within 20 days of the OCR’s request.
If an investigation indicates there has been a violation of Title IX, OCR attempts to obtain voluntary compliance and negotiate remedies. Only when it cannot obtain voluntary compliance does OCR initiate enforcement action. Enforcement usually consists of referring a case to the Department of Justice for court action, or initiating proceedings, before an administrative law judge, to terminate Federal funding to the recipient's program or activity in which the prohibited discrimination occurred. Terminations are made only after the recipient has had an opportunity for a hearing before an administrative law judge, and after all other appeals have been exhausted.
Given possible changes in federal enforcement of Title IX and the Clery Act under the Trump Administration, we strongly encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss whether or not to file a complaint.
I’m not sure if my Title IX rights were violated.
You may have read our introduction to Title IX but still not be sure if your concerns are covered by the law. Your Title IX rights come from a fairly simple statute that reads:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has expanded upon how this statute should be understood and applied by educational programs and institutions and is responsible for enforcing the statute.
Cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence fall under Title IX if:
- Discrimination that is persistent and pervasive. If you have experienced any kind of persistent sexual misconduct (i.e. stalking, abuse, frequent sexual comments), which prevents you—either physically or emotionally—from participating in normal college activities, that is a Title IX violation. Even if a single instance is not sufficiently harmful, the ongoing nature of these offenses leads to Title IX qualification.
- Discrimination that is severe and traumatizing. In part due to the emotional trauma associated with these events, a single instance of rape meets this definition. If you experience a sexual assault that prevents you from participating in college activities, that is a Title IX violation.
The statute sets certain obligations upon schools, including:
- Once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.
- If sexual violence has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, whether or not the sexual violence is the subject of a criminal investigation.
- A school must take steps to protect the complainant as necessary, including interim steps taken prior to the final outcome of the investigation.
- A school must provide a grievance procedure for students to file complaints of sex discrimination, including complaints of sexual violence. These procedures must include an equal opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence and the same appeal rights.
- A school’s grievance procedures must use the preponderance of the evidence standard to resolve complaints of sex discrimination.
- A school must notify both parties of the outcome of the complaint.
You can find more specifics about the above in our general resource guide on Title IX. If your case falls under Title IX and your school has not followed the above bullet points, your school has violated your Title IX rights. If you’re not sure your rights have been violated, you can talk to us – we will keep anything you tell us confidential. You can also contact the OCR with any questions at (800) 421-3481 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t find information on how to file a Title IX complaint.
We have a resource on this page to help you file a Title IX complaint, but you may have other questions. We encourage you to talk to a lawyer or other trained expert.
My complaint involves incidents that occurred over 180 days ago.
Even if you missed the 180-day window, you can still submit your complaint. The complaint form will ask you why you did not submit in 180 days. The OCR may be more likely to consider your complaint in this case if you are submitting alongside other people who are within the 180-day window, and/or if you can provide evidence that the discrimination you faced is ongoing and pervasive.
How do I submit a complaint involving multiple people?
If you are submitting a complaint alongside other people from your school, you have two choices:
- You can all submit separately
- You can have a point person submit on behalf of all of you
One person is allowed to file on behalf of a group. To do so, include the information about each person’s complaint in your description of the discrimination. Each person you are filing on behalf of will still need to sign and send in a consent form.
Can I submit both a Title IX complaint and a complaint to another agency, such as Clery?
Certainly. However, the OCR may choose not to handle your complaint if they believe the other agency’s resolution process will be comparable to the OCR’s. There is no limit on how much time has passed when submitting a Clery. As such, depending on the nature of your complaint, you may wish to attempt the Title IX process before going through a Clery complaint. We encourage you to complete the two as separate documents since the agencies reviewing each are different compliance branches.
I’m not comfortable using my name.
If you are submitting a complaint on your behalf, it must be signed and include your name and contact info to be considered. However, if someone else is submitting on your behalf, your name does not need to be included. In this case, the details of your situation will provide further support that an investigation is needed. But anonymity will limit the OCR’s ability to investigate your case and how the school handled it. When submitting with a group, the more complainants who include their names and fill out consent forms, the better.
Remember, include your name does not give the OCR the right to reveal that you are one of the complainants. Your information will remain confidential to the OCR.
Why might the OCR decide not to investigate my complaint?
The OCR lists a number of possible reasons that it might decide not to investigate your complaint. These include:
- OCR does not have legal authority to investigate the complaint;
- The complaint fails to state a violation of one of the laws OCR enforces;
- The complaint was not filed timely and that a waiver will not be granted;
- The complaint is unclear or incomplete and the complainant does not provide the information that OCR requests within 20 calendar days of OCR’s request;
- The allegations raised by the complaint have been resolved;
- The complaint has been investigated by another Federal, state, or local civil rights agency or through a recipient's internal grievance procedures, including due process proceedings, and the resolution meets OCR regulatory standards or, if still pending, OCR anticipates that there will be a comparable resolution process under comparable legal standards;
- The same allegations have been filed by the complainant against the same recipient in state or Federal court;
- The allegations are foreclosed by previous decisions of the Federal courts, the U.S. Secretary of Education, the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Reviewing Authority, or OCR policy determinations.
How can I increase my chances that the OCR will investigate my complaint?
Be timely and submit your complaint within 180 days of the action. Submit alongside other people, to show that the discrimination is systematic and ongoing. The more details and more evidence of discrimination you provide, the better. Details and evidence will help the OCR in its investigation.
The OCR has decided to investigate my complaint. What’s the next step in the process?
The OCR will attempt to gather information. The OCR needs to find a preponderance of evidence suggesting the school has violated the law. While this investigation is ongoing, you and the school have the option, if all parties are willing to do so, to go through Early Complaint Resolution. Through this process, the OCR will facilitate settlement discussions. The OCR does not approve, endorse, sign or monitor any agreement reached through this process. However, if the school is not following the terms of the agreement, you may submit a further Title IX complaint. This must be submit within 180 days of the original discrimination or within 60 days of learning that the school has failed to comply with the agreement, whichever date comes later.
Your school also has the option to resolve the complaint early. If it chooses to do so, and the OCR accepts this, the school and the OCR will negotiate an agreement.
Since submitting my complaint, I’ve faced further discrimination and/or retaliation from my school. What can I do?
You can submit another Title IX complaint, outlining the discrimination your facing.
I am unhappy with the results of the OCR’s investigation. What options do I have?
You may appeal the OCR’s decision. To do so, send a written appeal, including supporting documentation, if you have any, to the Director of the Enforcement Office that investigated your complaint. Explain why or how you believe the evidence and information gathered by the OCR was insufficient or incomplete, how the factual analysis was incorrect and/or the appropriate legal standard was not applied, and how this would or should change the OCR’s decision. The results of this appeal will represent the agency’s final decision; you cannot appeal further.
If you are unhappy with the appeal, you still have options, outlined under the next question.
The OCR has decided against investigating my complaint. What next?
Regardless of the OCR’s decision, you still have the option of going through other complaint processes. You may decide to file a federal court case – though if you do so while your OCR complaint is still under investigation, the OCR will not continue to investigate your complaint. Depending on the discrimination you faced, you may be able to file a Clery complaint; see our related resource guides. Your school may also have a complaint resolution process you can go through. If you are trying to figure out your next step, please feel free to contact us.
I am a K-12 student. Does Title IX have anything to do with me?
Absolutely: Title IX protects students at all levels of education. Much of our advice here will be relevant to your process, but our experience and the focus of this site is with college and university complaints. We encourage you to contact a lawyer or organization for more information about your complaint—check out our resource on finding a lawyer here.
Under Title IX, a sexual harassment victim can file a private lawsuit at a federal court if their college is not complying with its Title IX obligations. You can file a Title IX lawsuit without filing a prior complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). You can also file a lawsuit after filing a complaint with the OCR; the outcome of the complaint does not affect your ability to file a Title IX lawsuit.
Who can file a Title IX lawsuit?
Individuals are allowed to file a Title IX complaint with the OCR on behalf of sexual harassment victims. This, however, does not apply to Title IX lawsuits. Only a victim of sexual harassment, or the parents of the victim if they are is below the age of 18, can file a lawsuit.
How do you file a Title IX lawsuit?
To a file a lawsuit, you must do so through an attorney or, for those who do not have an attorney, through a federal court’s pro se clerk’s office.
For legal assistance, you can contact one of the following organizations which have experience with Title IX litigation:
- Legal Momentum works to expand legal rights and services for victims of gender-based violence. You can contact Legal Momentum's helpline at titleix[AT]legalmomentum[DOT]org or (212) 925-6635, ext. 650.
- Public Justice is a national public interest law firm that uses precedent-setting litigation to fight injustice and right wrongs. It has worked on numerous sexual assault-related Title IX cases for decades, and also handles cases involving bullying and harassment, including gender-based harassment. You can contact the organization for legal assistance by phone at (202) 797-8600 or by email at caseintake[at]publicjustice[dot]net.
- The Victims Rights Law Center practices in Massachusetts and Oregon but can provide technical assistance and referrals elsewhere. You can contact the VRLC by phone at 617-399-6720 x19 or at their web address here.
- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) does legal advocacy work in Title IX cases. Each state has a local affiliate. You can find your local affiliate to obtain legal assistance here.
- Legal Voice is a women’s rights advocacy organization that provides legal assistance for Title IX. The organization can also be contacted for legal information about Title IX and filing a lawsuit.
There are also organizations that can provide you a referral for an attorney specializing in Title IX cases:
- The American Bar association has a referral service in each state, specified by county.
- School Violence Law has worked on a number of Title IX cases and provides free consultations, including attorney referrals. You can contact the firm at (877) 927-4321.
Useful Information for Your Attorney
Before meeting with an attorney, make sure you have information about your college’s Title IX violations. This can include a list of examples of noncompliance. Also, thorough documentation is critical for a lawsuit. Make sure you have copies and records of interviews, meetings, letters, and any complaints that have been filed with the OCR (if you have filed a complaint) and/or with your college. If you have been in communication with any administrators at your college, make sure you document any communications (phone calls, letters, emails, and texts). For example, following a meeting with a college administrator, it can be helpful to send an email memorializing the content of your conversation.
Is there a time limit for filing a Title IX lawsuit?
Yes, all federal courts have a time limit for when you can file a Title IX lawsuit. The time limit depends on the state in which your college is located and what the state has determined to be the “statute of limitations” for Title IX cases: this ranges from about one year to six years.
What are the available remedies for a Title IX lawsuit?
If the court decides a college has violated Title IX, the most common remedies available are injunctive relief, monetary compensation and attorney's fees. When the court grants injunctive relief, the college is commanded to perform or prevent an action — this relief aims to rectify the problematic conduct that led to the Title IX violations. If you are the victim of sexual harassment, you do not have to prove that your college had actual knowledge of the harassment to be awarded injunctive relief. Even if you have already graduated from college by the time the court decides to grant injunctive relief, it can still be ordered as long as there is a group of students that would still be positively affected by the injunctive relief. A court may consider not issuing injunctive relief if the school proves that there is no reasonable expectation that the violation will occur again.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment, you can also receive money damages (compensation) if you can prove that your college intentionally did not comply with its Title IX obligations. This means that you must show that your college knew of the harassment and was deliberately indifferent to it.
Further, if your Title IX lawsuit is successful, the court can order compensation for your attorney's fees (the charges for legal services).
Sometimes, the court will order a college produce a compliance plan that will outline the steps it must take to rectify the Title IX violations. The court then monitors the school to make sure it undertakes these steps.
- The victim has more control over the suit in contrast to a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education. For example, in a lawsuit a victim can request for a certain type of relief from the court. In an Office of Civil Rights complaint proceeding, however, the Office of Civil Rights can negotiate with the school on how it can comply with Title IX without any input from the victim.
- It is possible for a lawsuit to provide immediate relief such as injunctive relief.
- Lawsuits can provide more types of relief in comparison to a Title IX complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. For example, the Office of Civil Rights cannot force a school to spend money to address sexual harassment while a victim can receive compensation if his or her Title IX lawsuit is successful.
- A favorable lawsuit outcome can be effective setting precedent and deterring schools from violating Title IX more so than a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights. The outcome of the Office of Civil Rights cases are specific to a particular school, while a lawsuit’s precedent can be binding to all schools who are covered by Title IX.
- If the outcome of a lawsuit is unfavorable, a victim has the opportunity to file an appeal and have a higher level court review the case. While the Office of Civil Rights allows appeals for Title IX complaints, a case will only be reviewed once and the decision of the appeal will be final. For lawsuits, the hierarchy of federal courts allows victims more than one opportunity to file an appeal (however, after the first appeal a court has discretion to dismiss subsequent ones).
- Most lawsuits do not go to trial and end with both parties settling. This can be beneficial for the victim because they will receive some form of compensation from the school.
- A victim has more time to file a Title IX lawsuit than filing a Title IX complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. Office of Civil Rights complaints need to be filed within 180 days after the victim suffered discrimination. In contrast, the deadline for a lawsuit (while it varies by the state in which the school is located) typically ranges from 1 year to 6 years.
- In general, lawsuits can take a very long time (even years). Lawsuits can be expensive because of court filing fees and attorney fees. While a successful lawsuit can result in the victim not having to pay attorney fees, if the lawsuit is unsuccessful, then the victim could be forced to cover the costs. Unlike Title IX lawsuits, filing a Title IX complaint with the Office of Civil Rights is free.
- Only the victim (or the victim’s parents if they are under 18) can file the suit. For Title IX complaints with the Office of Civil Rights, anyone can file a complaint without having a direct stake in the claim.
- What a victim has to prove during a lawsuit can be harder than what a victim has to prove in an Office of Civil Rights complaint. For a Title IX lawsuit, the victim will have to show that the school had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment and deliberately ignored it. For an Office of Civil Rights complaint, a victim does not have to prove actual knowledge.
- Judges presiding over a Title IX lawsuit will likely not have the same Title IX expertise as an employee from the Office of Civil Rights presiding over a Title IX complaint.
- Title IX lawsuits generally attract media attention which can negatively impact a victim’s privacy.
- If the outcome of a Title IX lawsuit is unfavorable to the school, the school may file an appeal which could lead to an unfavorable result for the victim.
- A Title IX lawsuit can be made public via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Identifying information about the accused is not redacted, which means there is risk of the complainant being subject to legal retaliation if identified.
- If the court decides a victim’s Title IX lawsuit is frivolous, they may have to provide money to the school (such as paying for some of the school’s lawsuit costs).
- Perpetrators will not necessarily face justice.