Campus Rule Changes Erode Victim Rights, State Suit Alleges

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(Bloomberg) -- Nineteen states sued to block Trump administration changes to rules against sexual harassment on school and college campuses, saying they will make it harder for victims to hold attackers accountable.

California, New York, Pennsylvania and other states in two lawsuits filed Thursday said the Education Department rule changes undermine the landmark Title IX law that required schools and universities to be free of discrimination based on sex, including sexual assault and harassment.

The new rules introduced by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos May 6, and set to take effect in August, provide additional protections to those accused of sexual misconduct, including the right to an adviser and to challenge the evidence against them. They apply to all schools that receive federal funding.

The states say the new compliance procedures will burden schools at a time when their budgets are already being stretched due to the coronavirus pandemic and will also discourage many students form reporting misconduct.

“Students choose not to report for many reasons, but federal regulations should never be a factor in deterring survivors from seeking justice -- and that is what the new Title IX regulations threaten to do,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“This is a political press release masquerading as a lawsuit,” Angela Morabito, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said Friday in an emailed statement. “The new Title IX rules protect all students by requiring schools to follow a reliable, transparent, and fair process in handling complaints of sexual misconduct.”

New York sued in federal court in Manhattan, while the other states filed a joint lawsuit in Washington, D.C. All of the states have Democratic attorneys general who have frequently clashed with President Donald Trump over an agenda geared toward rolling back Obama-era regulations.

According to the states, the new rules erode privacy protections for victims and create unfair barriers to filing complaints and opening investigations. They also effectively exclude from Title IX protection students who leave school as a result of alleged assaults or who are assaulted off-campus, they say.

“The rule will reverse decades of effort to end the corrosive effects of sexual harassment on equal access to education -- a commitment that, until now, has been shared by Congress and the executive branch across multiple elections and administrations,” the states said in the Washington suit.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, tied the rule to change President Donald Trump.

“The president has repeatedly shown that he doesn’t think sexual harassment is a serious matter, but his callousness now threatens our youngest and most vulnerable and could increase the likelihood of sexual harassment and abuse of students in schools,” James said in a statement.

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