The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Will Hear an Appeal in a Title IX Sex Discrimination Complaint Brought Against University of Mary Washington That Has National Importance


WHAT:   On May 8, 2018, the Court of Appeals will hold oral arguments in a case that presents the profoundly important question of what duty a university has under Title IX and the U.S. Constitution to protect its students from harassment and threats.  The plaintiffs are Feminist United, an on campus women’s rights group affiliated with the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF); individual members of the campus group; and FMF.  The plaintiffs have sued the University of Mary Washington charging it with systemic failures to comply with Title IX, including failure to address incidents of sex-based cyber assault, including threats of physical and sexual violence via the anonymous social media application Yik Yak.  The University has claimed that it was unable to take action without violating the First Amendment rights of the harassers.


“Threatening women with rape and murder is not protected speech; it is blatant sex discrimination intended to silence, harass and intimidate women students who dared to protest and work against sexual violence,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “The University of Mary Washington administration completely failed to uphold its duty under Title IX to protect young women students from an extremely hostile environment. Women cannot enjoy the full benefits of an educational opportunity if they are terrorized and fearful for their physical safety.”


Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a preeminent Constitutional law scholar, will be arguing on behalf of the students and the Feminist Majority Foundation, a national women’s rights organization, that the University’s failure to protect female students from threats of violence and sexual assault demonstrated deliberate indifference to the rights of these students, in violation of Title IX and the U.S. Constitution.


According to Dean Chemerinsky, “The University acknowledges that the students were subjected to ‘cyber-bullying,’ harassment in over 700 anonymous online posts, and threats of rape and murder.  The campus did virtually nothing and even declared itself powerless to do anything. This deliberate indifference on the part of university officials violates federal civil rights laws and the Constitution.”


Carolyn Wheeler, Debra Katz and Joseph Abboud, with the law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP are co-counsel in this matter.


WHERE & WHEN:      


Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse & Annex
1100 East Main Street, Suite 501
Richmond, VA 23219


May 8, 2018, 9:30 AM EST




Debra S. Katz –  Katz, Marshall & Banks, 202-299-1140

Erin Gistaro – Feminist Majority Foundation, 703-522-2214

Lisa Altman – Jaffe, 301-943-9948