Fourteen nonprofit and advocacy organizations, including the National Women's Law Center, in a legal brief filed Thursday asked that a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Arkansas be allowed to continue.
University attorneys, along with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, earlier asked for the dismissal of a former UA student's lawsuit alleging that the university acted with "deliberate indifference" when in 2014 she reported being raped by another student on the Fayetteville campus.
Arguments from UA and Rutledge's office address the legal basis for lawsuits seeking monetary damages in Title IX cases against state universities. Attorneys general from six other states -- Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas -- joined with Rutledge in a Feb. 6 filing that asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the lawsuit.
The latest brief, written primarily by an attorney with the San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates, argues that a ruling in UA's favor "would strip millions of students of state universities and K-12 schools of the ability to meaningfully enforce their Title IX rights."
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women were among the groups joining the friends-of-the-court brief, according to the filing.
The former student's lawsuit stated that the university violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal money. Federal authorities have said that under Title IX, schools must promptly and effectively address sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Her lawsuit against UA and the university system's board of trustees, filed last year in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, includes allegations that the university improperly handled a campus disciplinary process.
The lawsuit asked for damages, attorney's and expert fees, and "other relief of which this Court deems just and proper."
Other schools have been sued under Title IX by students alleging violations related to a school's response to reports of sexual assault. Some cases resulted in high-profile settlements. Last year, Florida State University announced a $950,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by a former student.
Alexandra Brodsky, a fellow with the National Women's Law Center, in a statement explained why the center joined in the latest filing. The center, founded in 1972, advocates for equality and opportunity for women and girls.
"Courts have long made clear that schools may be liable for money damages if they violate students' rights under Title IX. There's no reason to reverse the law now, especially given the grave stakes for students," said Brodsky. "Without the threat of damages, schools may not be as motivated to address sexual assault, and that's a risk we can't take."
George Rozzell, a Rogers-based attorney for the former student, said in an email that his client "is pleased to have the support of so many well renowned organizations, especially considering the national importance of her case."
UA attorneys and Rutledge cited the concept of sovereign immunity in asking for the case's dismissal.
The legal concept for states goes back to the U.S. Constitution and questions of sovereign immunity that in part involve whether governments and government employees should be shielded from lawsuits or monetary damages.
In February, a spokesman for Rutledge, Judd Deere, said in an email that "whether the federal government has expressly revoked a state's immunity from monetary damages in Title IX cases has far reaching implications on Arkansas's sovereignty and our taxpayer dollars."
The advocacy organizations state in their brief that UA is seeking to "radically transform" the enforcement of Title IX "by asking this Court to become the first to hold that monetary damages are not available in Title IX lawsuits against state institutions."
The brief also cites what's known as the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act, federal legislation sometimes referred to as the CRREA.
"The plain language of CRREA authorizes 'remedies at law' in Title IX lawsuits where such remedies are available against private or public entities other than States. 'Remedies at law' unequivocally include monetary damages," the brief states.
"That phrase 'remedies at law,' that means damages. That has meant damages for centuries," Rebecca Peterson-Fisher, the primary author of the brief and a senior staff attorney for Equal Rights Advocates, a national women's rights organization that fights gender discrimination, said in a phone interview. "'Remedies at law' means money."
The 10 other organizations listed as joining in the brief, known as an amici curiae, or friends of the court filing, were: Public Justice, P.C.; Legal Momentum; Equity Legal; Women's Sports Foundation; Girls Inc.; Women's Law Project; California Women's Law Center; The Clearinghouse on Women's Issues; the Feminist Majority Foundation; and Atlanta Women for Equality.
"We consented to the amicus filing. We are reviewing their brief and will respond in our reply, which is due next week," Mark Rushing, a UA spokesman, said in a statement.
Metro on 03/10/2017