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Sexual Harassment in Higher Education

June 7th, 2023
female college employee being sexually harassed by a man

Despite recent advancements and the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment continues to be a serious issue at many colleges and universities. Research studies have shown that nearly 60 percent of female faculty in colleges and universities report experiencing sexual harassment during their employment.

A University of Texas study revealed that female students in the science, math, medicine, and engineering (STEM) departments were the most likely to experience sexual harassment. Nearly 20 percent of female students in the three fields reported having experienced sexual harassment during school, and over 40 percent of female engineering students reported being sexually harassed.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” that affects an individual’s employment, work performance or creates a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment is a broad term encompassing three distinct types of impermissible behavior:

  • Sexual coercion: Known as “quid pro quo harassment,” sexual coercion is an implicit or explicit attempt to make work conditions or educational performance contingent upon sexual cooperation, such as sexual favors in exchange for a passing grade.
  • Unwanted sexual attention: Unwanted touching, stroking, kissing, hugging, or continuous sexual advances unwelcome by the recipient that creates a hostile work environment. Sexual assault and rape can also be categorized as unwanted sexual attention.
  • Gender harassment: The most common form of sexual harassment, gender harassment refers to disparaging conduct based on gender with no specific sexual implications, such as degrading remarks that women or men do not belong in certain work positions or fields of study. These actions constitute sexual harassment because they are sex- or gender-based.

Sexual harassment on college campuses is a civil rights issue, depriving students and staff of equal and free access to education and discrimination-free work environments.

Rights and Protections Against Sexual Harassment

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sexual harassment against students or employees in higher education institutions that receive federal funding, encompassing most public and private institutions. The Title IX federal law was further amended in 2011 to include sexual violence and assault as forms of illegal sexual harassment. Colleges and universities are required to:

  • Implement Title IX complaint procedures to promptly address complaints.
  • Establish a Title IX office on campus with at least one employee coordinator.
  • Provide students and staff with policies on sexual harassment and assault, including how to file a formal complaint.
  • Respond to complaints quickly and take additional steps to prevent discrimination.
  • Provide support and security for survivors of sexual violence.
  • Ensure complainants do not experience retaliation for filing complaints.

Once an institution is made aware of a sexual harassment incident or report, they are required to take immediate steps to investigate the issue to protect the complainant, including:

  • Taking immediate action to eliminate sexual harassment or violence.
  • Issuing a no-contact order to the accused.
  • Make reasonable changes to the survivor’s housing arrangements, schedules, and extracurricular activities.
  • Protect the survivor’s legal right to violence, discrimination, or harassment-free education.
  • Take actions to prevent a recurrence of harassment, discrimination, or violence discrimination and address its effects.

The institution, not the student or staff who filed the complaint, is required to pay all applicable costs if certain accommodation is deemed necessary.

When Is a College or University Liable for Sexual Harassment?

In certain circumstances, institutions may be liable for sexual harassment or violence that occur on campus if the school fails to:

  • Provide proper safety and security for students and staff.
  • Act on warning signs of school-sponsored organizations, such as sports or fraternities, engaging in sexual harassment.
  • Respond appropriately to warnings or reports of students or staff harassing or threatening others.
  • Deny admittance, housing, or extracurricular activities to a student or staff member with a history of sexual harassment or assault.

Chester County Sexual Harassment Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Advocate for Clients Experiencing Sexual Harassment at Higher Education Institutions

If you have been the target of sexual harassment or assault at a college or university, our experienced Chester County sexual harassment lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. will help you assert your rights. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Lehigh County, and Montgomery County.

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