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February 3, 2022

Attorneys: 3rd Circ. Ruling on Title IX Liability for Non-Students’ Actions ‘A Wakeup Call For Universities’

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Co-Chair of the Title IX and Campus Discipline practice, Patricia Hamill, discussed the impact of a recent Third Circuit Ruling against Millersville University that potentially makes it more difficult for institutions of higher learning to cast off responsibility for sexual misconduct that occurs on their campuses.

Patricia Hamill said the ‘Millersville’ decision itself decision itself did not necessarily pave new ground for Title IX enforcement, but instead cemented U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence.

John and Jeanette Hall sued Millersville University under a Title IX claim in January 2017 after their daughter, Karlie Hall, was murdered in her dorm room at the Pennsylvania school in February 2015, according to the opinion. After the Halls sued Millersville, the district court granted summary judgment to the university, finding that it lacked notice under Title IX that it could face liability for the actions of a non-student guest. But the appellate panel disagreed, concluding that the text of Title IX provides the university, and other federal funding recipients, with adequate notice for liability.

“I think it’s a wakeup call for universities. They can’t just sort of say, ‘They’re not a student here’ or ‘They’re not a visiting lecturer or a visiting professor.’ [Colleges] really need to be on alert if there is a spread of domestic violence.”

Patricia Hamill, Co-Chair of the Title IX and Campus Discipline practice

Hamill said the Millersville decision reinforces the need for colleges and universities to be sensitized to the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence. “Universities need to be doubling down and doubly aware that if this is a context they control and have some control over the harasser—whatever the status of that person—they need to know that they can be liable if they know of domestic violence, sexual assault or harassment, and don’t do any follow up to see what could possibly eliminate it,” Hamill said. “There’s still the element of ‘reasonableness,’ it’s not that you have to know every little thing that goes on your campus. You have to have knowledge of or notice of the conduct of the issue, and then the steps the [colleges] take must be ‘reasonable’ and not ‘deliberately indifferent.’”

Changes or amendments to Title IX have developed in the recent decade as an increasing number of cases continue to populate the courts. The biggest changes, Hamill said, have been regulatory more so than case law.