How to File a Title IX Complaint

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities which receive federal financial assistance. For more information about Title IX, check out “Title IX: The Basics.”

Filing a Title IX Discrimination Complaint with OCR

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 at https://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OCR/contactus.cfm.

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, at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html. 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 submit within 20 days of the OCR’s request.

After filing

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.

FAQs:

Q: Can I file both a Clery Act and Title IX complaint?
A: Yes, you can. Although some violations might be covered by both statutes, you may file both. Please note, however, that these two complaints must be filed separately.

Q: Do I need a lawyer to file a Title IX complaint?
A: No.  Some individuals may choose to retain lawyers, either pro bono or for a fee, but anyone may file a Title IX complaint without legal counsel. For more information on finding a lawyer, visit our resource here.

Q: Who oversees Title IX? Where will my complaint go?
A: Your complaint will go to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under the US Department of Education.

Q: When can I expect to hear back from OCR?
A: Complaints can take anywhere from a month to a year to receive initial confirmation.  Once you have received confirmation, you will follow up with the investigators assigned to your case.

Q: What is OCR’s role? If they investigate, does that mean that they are on my side?
A: OCR is a neutral fact finder and does not take sides.

Q: Is there a statute of limitations for when I can file a complaint?
A: The statute of limitations is 180 days from when the last violation occured, however, you have the right to request a waiver if your violations are outside of this window. (Clery has no statue of limitations.)

Q: What is the difference between the early resolution process and a full investigation?  Is there a preferred option?

A: At times a college or university may cooperate with OCR and proactively address changes during the investigation process.  These changes improve policies and procedures in responding to sexual violence  and notifies the university community of these changes.  A voluntary resolution means that an institution commits to continually reviewng and improving changes as well as addressing climate in the campus community.

If you are dissatisfied with a resolution agreement, you may still pursue a lawsuit.
Q: What does OCR enforce?
A:  OCR is responsible for enforcing, among other civil rights statues, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and its implementing regulation, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving Federal Financial Assistance (FFA) from the Department.

Q: I am worried about being retaliated against by institution.  Are there protections against retaliation?
A: There are laws that prohibit a recipient or other person from retaliating against n individual for the purpose of potentially interfering with any right or privileged secured by them or because that person has made a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under the laws enforced by OCR.  If you feel you are being retaliated against, document the retaliation, contact the OCR, and read our section on retaliation for more information.

–Annie E. Clark and Miriam Hauser

Although these resources have been written with the guidance of legal experts, we are not lawyers, and the information on this website does not constitute legal advice. We encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss your complaint or suit.