The University of Arkansas was hit with a Title IX lawsuit last year by a former student, Elizabeth Fryberger, who says the school mishandled her sexual assault case. The university filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming sovereign immunity protections under the 11th Amendment protect state institutions from being sued for damages in federal court over Title IX violations. After a federal district court denied the motion, the university in December appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
“It is a radical approach,” said Adele Kimmel, an attorney at the firm Public Justice, which co-signed an amicus brief in support of Fryberger. Kimmel traced the university’s approach to the election of President Donald Trump. “What I think is happening here is that some states are feeling empowered by the change in administration to try and press for a more restrictive view of Title IX,” she said.
The offices that responded to BuzzFeed News’s request for comment said the case highlights an important legal question about states’ immunity from having to pay damages in federal lawsuits.UA has not distinguished itself in this case, marked by seemingly preferential treatment for a male student who happened to be a scholarship athlete. The UA says victims have other alternatives, including state court lawsuits and criminal charges.
The outcome of the case “has far reaching implications on Arkansas’s sovereignty and our taxpayer dollars,” Judd Deere, a spokesman for the office of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, told BuzzFeed News.
... The University of Arkansas argued in its appellate brief filed last week that it can only be taken to federal court under Title IX for injunctive relief, meaning a student could demand the school handle a case differently but not collect monetary damages. The school points to the 1986 federal law that says people can sue in federal court for Title IX violations, but doesn’t explicitly say plaintiffs can collect damages.