Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project helps challenge new federal education law
“Campus SaVE Act” alleged to undermine student rights
(Boston, 3/25/14) New England Law | Boston: A new law enacted to aid victims of sexual violence on college campuses may actually restrict their rights, according to a complaint filed last month in federal court in Washington, DC. The complaint was drafted by New England Law | Boston Adjunct Professor Wendy Murphy ’87 with assistance from Sofia Mastandrea ’15, Emma McGovern ’15, and Katherine Ramsey ’15, and filed by Washington attorney James Marsh.
Dr. Bernice Sandler, widely known as the “Godmother of Title IX” for her role in the development and passage of the law and others prohibiting sex discrimination in education, is a key supporter. Professor Murphy has worked on the complaint with Dr. Sandler for several months.
New law impacts ongoing investigations, complaint alleges
Sexual assault is rampant on college campuses, with 20 to 25 percent of female students victimized by rape or attempted rape, according to a report prepared for the National Institute of Justice. Congress addressed the issue comprehensively via the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, which amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 and took effect March 7, 2014. The law was ostensibly designed to improve education and prevention related to campus sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
The complaint, Jane Doe vs. U.S. Department of Education, alleges that the legislative goals are subverted by “Certain provisions of SaVE (that) have the purpose and effect of subjecting the redress of violence against women at post-secondary schools to inherently unfair legal standards and standards more burdensome and less protective than those applied to the redress of violence on the basis of other protected class categories such as race, color, and national origin.” The complaint charges that this violates Constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process, and rights protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Jane Doe,” a former University of Virginia student, contends that the new law will hinder investigations now underway by the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) against the university concerning her sexual assault allegations against another student. Her federal lawsuit, filed February 19 and approved to proceed on March 6, asked the court to order DOE and DHHS to resolve their investigations prior to the new law taking effect on March 7 – a deadline that was not met – or alternatively to decide it under the law previously in effect.
“Jane Doe also asked the court to enjoin enforcement of certain of SaVE’s provisions that violate the equal protection and due process rights of women as a class,” explained Professor Murphy.
Students contribute to effort, gain experience
New England Law students assisted with drafting and citation research through the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project, a component of the law school’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility.
“Contributing to this project provided the invaluable experience of understanding the inner workings of what goes into filing a federal claim in an area of law that I am deeply interested in,” said Mastandrea. “I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute to such an important case that is receiving nationwide attention.”
“Criminal law has always been an area that I have been interested in, and this project allowed me to work on something that had value where I could make a difference,” noted McGovern. “Colleges and universities rarely acknowledge the sexual violence that women face on campus in a manner that is acceptable, and just bringing to light the inadequacy of many campus procedures and guidelines regarding women's safety made working on this case worthwhile to me.”
High Court may decide
Professor Murphy believes that this case may ultimately wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.