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Case Name The Women's Student Union v. U.S. Dep't of Education ED-CA-0038
Docket / Court 3:21-cv-01626 ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Education
Special Collection Title IX, Sexual Violence Investigations/Resolutions
Attorney Organization National Center for Youth Law
Public Justice
Case Summary
This case is about the Trump Administration's amended Title IX regulations that reduced federal protections for students experiencing sexual harassment in public schools. On March 8, 2021, The Women’s Student Union (the Student Union)—a student organization at Berkeley High School—filed this ... read more >
This case is about the Trump Administration's amended Title IX regulations that reduced federal protections for students experiencing sexual harassment in public schools. On March 8, 2021, The Women’s Student Union (the Student Union)—a student organization at Berkeley High School—filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiff sued the U.S. Department of Education under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Represented by the National Center for Youth Law and Public Justice, the plaintiff sought an injunction against, and vacatur of, the amended regulations. The plaintiff additionally sought declaratory relief and attorneys' fees. The case was assigned to Judge Edward M. Chen.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued the amended regulations governing sexual assault under Title IX. The amended regulations varied from the previous regulations in several ways, including by restricting the definition of unlawful sexual harassment to conduct that is both severe and pervasive, excluding Title IX coverage for harassment occurring off campus, requiring school action only if the school has actual knowledge of the harassment, and holding a school liable only if it remains deliberately indifferent to the harassment.

In February 2021, the plaintiff had filed an administrative complaint against Berkeley Unified School District with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The complaint alleged violations including unwelcome exposure to others’ genitalia, students’ circulation of sexualized images of a classmate, harassment occurring in Zoom breakout rooms, harassing messages sent through personal phones during class, and the presence of an informal club dedicated to sexually harassing students. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff asserted that the amended regulations would prohibit the Office for Civil Rights from opening the administrative complaint and investigating the alleged harassment, because that harassment no longer violated Title IX. The plaintiff argued the amended regulations therefore denied the Student Union its procedural right to have its administrative complaint investigated and frustrated the Student Union’s mission of reducing sexual harassment experienced by Berkeley High School students. The Department of Education had not yet opened the administrative complaint at the time the lawsuit was filed.

Texas filed a motion to intervene as a defendant on April 7, 2021, arguing that it needed to protect its interests as an education provider, and the plaintiff and defendant filed responses in opposition to the motion. Additionally, on May 24, 2021, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Independent Women’s Law Center, and Speech First, Inc., filed a motion to intervene as defendants to allegedly protect their interests in safeguarding free speech and due process rights, and the plaintiff and defendant filed responses in opposition as well.

The defendant then sought to stay the case for sixty days while, under President Biden’s Executive Order, the Secretary of Education reviewed the amended regulations and considered whether they should be suspended, revised, or rescinded. Judge Chen denied the motion to stay on June 18, 2021, because the Department of Education would be unlikely to complete the review within sixty days and was not obligated to suspend, revise, or rescind the amended regulations at all.

On July 1, 2021, the Department of Education filed a motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. Judge Chen granted the motion to dismiss with leave to amend, because the plaintiff failed to show it suffered injury because of the amended regulations. The court rejected the plaintiff's associational and organizational standing theories. 2021 WL 3932000. As a result, the plaintiff filed a motion to amend the complaint on September 10, 2021, and Judge Chen granted the motion.

Accordingly, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint on October 4, 2021, stating that although the Office for Civil Rights resolved 90% of claims within 180 days of receipt, the Office did not open the plaintiff's administrative complaint until 220 days after receipt. The plaintiff argued that this behavior supported the allegation that the Office for Civil Rights would not open the complaint, thus depriving the plaintiff of its procedural right to have its complaint opened and investigated. In addition to procedural injuries, the plaintiff asserted that the amended regulations reduced the number of sexual harassment incidents the high school investigated, injuring the plaintiff's members by creating a hostile school environment.

The case is ongoing.

Laura Irei - 09/29/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Discrimination-basis
Sex discrimination
General
Gay/lesbian/transgender
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.
Defendant(s) U.S. Department of Education
Plaintiff Description The Women's Student Union: a student organization seeking to reduce the sexual harassment experienced by students of Berkeley High School.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations National Center for Youth Law
Public Justice
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 03/08/2021
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  The Women's Student Union vs. U.S. Department of Education
https://www.publicjustice.net
Date: Sep. 26, 2021
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Women's Student Union v. U.S. Department of Education
National Center for Youth Law
Date: Aug. 5, 2021
By: National Center for Youth Law
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Fighting For The First Amendment Online
Gerstein Harrow LLP
Date: Mar. 29, 2021
By: James Harrow
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
N.D. Cal.
10/04/2021
3:21-cv-01626
ED-CA-0038-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
03/08/2021
Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 1]
ED-CA-0038-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
09/02/2021
Order Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 75] (2021 WL 3932000)
ED-CA-0038-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
10/04/2021
First Amended Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief Administrative Procedure Act Case [ECF# 78]
ED-CA-0038-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Chen, Edward Milton (N.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0002 | ED-CA-0038-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Brodsky, Alexandra (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0001 | ED-CA-0038-0003 | ED-CA-0038-9000
Correia, Linda M (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0001 | ED-CA-0038-0003 | ED-CA-0038-9000
Galanter, Seth Michael (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0001 | ED-CA-0038-0003 | ED-CA-0038-9000
He, John (California) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0003 | ED-CA-0038-9000
Khouri, Lauren A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0001 | ED-CA-0038-0003 | ED-CA-0038-9000
Kimmel, Adele P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0001 | ED-CA-0038-0003 | ED-CA-0038-9000
Spiegel, Adrienne (California) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-0001 | ED-CA-0038-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Barnes, Brian W (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Benbrook, Bradley A. (California) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Brown, William Brown Jr. (California) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Consovoy, William (Virginia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Hunker, Kathleen (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Johnson, Michael Kenneth (California) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Norris, Cameron T. (Virginia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Sweeten, Patrick Kinney (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000
Takemoto, Benjamin Thomas (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-CA-0038-9000

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