OCR Reference No. 04-21-2060 (January 26, 2023)
By Natasha Begin, M.Ed., Content Developer, TNG Consulting, LLC
SUMMARY OF FACTS
On January 26, 2023, the Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) entered into a resolution agreement with Troy University in Alabama (“the University”).1 Following a complaint from a University student, OCR investigated whether the University failed to provide reasonable pregnancy-related adjustments during the 2020-2021 academic year. The Complainant argued that the failure to accommodate her pregnancy needs negatively impacted her ability to fully participate in her academic coursework.
Title IX protects both students and employees from discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.”2 Title IX regulations state that, when necessary to ensure access to its educational program, institutions “must make adjustments to the regular program that are reasonable and responsive” to pregnant student needs.3 Additionally, the Department of Education released guidance to schools in October 2022, clarifying Title IX compliance requirements, outlining resources, and describing proactive steps for pregnancy-related needs.4 Taken together, the regulations and OCR guidance outline a mandate for recipients to actively respond to requests for support and adjustments based on pregnancy and pregnancy-related needs.
OCR’s investigation found that the student notified the University of her pregnancy prior to beginning the fall 2020 term. The student regularly communicated with her faculty and with the Title IX Coordinator about her coursework and attendance accommodations. The student alerted faculty on multiple occasions of her need to miss class due to pregnancy-related illness and, in one instance, hospitalization. Following multiple notices from the Title IX Coordinator, the faculty member continued to express concern to the pregnant student about her absences, continued to count her absences against her grade, and placed restrictions on late assignment submissions. The student alerted the Title IX Coordinator when her faculty denied her requests for academic adjustments and when the denial of attendance accommodations resulted in a failing grade at the conclusion of the semester. Lastly, the student requested a table for one of her classes as the standard classroom desks did not fit due to her pregnancy. Although the University fulfilled the table accommodation, the University did not address the problems with the student’s request for academic adjustments.
Additionally, OCR’s investigation determined that the Title IX Coordinator failed to communicate and coordinate support. When alerted to issues, the Title IX coordinator did not consistently intervene to assist the student in a timely manner. The Title IX Coordinator failed to ensure that faculty members followed the Coordinator’s guidance on absences, altered deadlines for assignments and tests, and provided other appropriate adjustments. At the end of the semester, after the student had given birth, Title IX Coordinator failed to follow up with the student regarding her needs and the successful completion of her coursework. The Title IX Coordinator also failed to respond to the professor’s request for guidance related to the student’s final grade. In an interview with OCR, the faculty member and the Title IX Coordinator stated that they were unaware of the written University policy related to discrimination against pregnant students or its process for addressing pregnancy-related requests.
Lastly, OCR found that at the time of the incidents, the University failed to provide the campus community with information, either in print or on its website, regarding the rights of pregnant students and how students could seek adjustments for pregnancy-related needs. Further, faculty members had not received training about discrimination against pregnant students or the University’s obligation to support reasonable adjustments related to pregnancy needs.
As a result of the allegations and OCR’s investigation, OCR entered into a resolution agreement with Troy University detailing that the University will:
- Review, revise, or draft policies and procedures outlining Troy’s accommodation process for pregnant students. The University must provide draft policies and procedures to OCR for their review, feedback, and ultimate approval.
- Adopt and implement OCR-approved policies and procedures. The University must disseminate the approved policies to all students, faculty, and staff.
- Update its Title IX website to provide information about the Title IX rights of pregnant students, the process for requesting adjustments, the Title IX Coordinator’s name and contact information, and the appropriate grievance procedures for pregnancy discrimination.
- Draft a training plan for faculty and staff regarding the Title IX rights of pregnant students and the university’s obligations regarding pregnant students, including how students may submit requests for adjustments, the process for approving adjustments, and the grievance procedure for students to file complaints of sex discrimination.
- Implement the training plan within 90 calendar days of OCR’s approval of the trainer and training plan. The university must also send training surveys to each participant to assess the quality and effectiveness of the training.
- Develop a system for tracking students’ pregnancy-related adjustment requests to the Title IX Coordinator, faculty, or staff. The documentation must also include the University’s response and rationale for denied requests.
- Provide OCR with a list of all pregnancy-related adjustment requests and the University’s response to them dated March 15-November 15, 2023.
- Remove impacted Fall 2020 grades from the student’s transcript.
- Work to limit the negative impact on the student’s future financial aid.
- Reimburse the student for Fall 2020 expenses related to any courses the student has since retaken.
Each element of the resolution agreement is subject to various reporting requirements so that OCR can effectively monitor the University’s progress on each agreement.
- OCR takes the rights of pregnant and parenting students and employees seriously and will hold schools and universities accountable for meeting regulatory requirements. It is not enough to merely have an institutional policy and procedures related to pregnant and parenting students. Institutions must ensure that policies are easily accessible and widely known by the campus community. Title IX Offices must actively promote the rights of pregnant and parenting students. Further, having a mechanism whereby students can request adjustments or report concerns reduces student barriers to requesting institutional support.
- In this case, the failure of the institution to effectively coordinate and communicate pregnancy-related adjustments resulted in an investigation and resolution process, which will inevitably cost the institution valuable time, money, and energy. Therefore, ensuring Title IX Coordinators understand their responsibilities and have the resources necessary to enforce institutional compliance is in the best interest of all involved.
- It is the responsibility of the institution to ensure that all faculty and staff members are aware of their role in supporting the needs of pregnant and parenting students. This resolution highlights the need for institutions to conduct training that explains the rights and responsibilities of students seeking pregnancy-related adjustments. Title IX Coordinators must support compliance efforts by making information readily available and facilitating training opportunities for all faculty, staff, and students. Training can decrease barriers for students requesting supportive measures and prepare faculty members to work with Title IX Coordinators to identify and implement academic adjustments.
- OCR’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) for Title IX previewed significant guidance for pregnant and parenting students. Regulatory changes may require Title IX Coordinators to change policies, procedures, and training of stakeholders.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER LEARNING
Navigating Accommodations for Pregnancy & Related Conditions Post-Covid
Department of Education Resource for Students and Schools (released October 2022)
Time with IX: The “Cycle of Under-Support” and How to Protect Pregnant & Parenting Students
Stay tuned for additional ATIXA resources and training opportunities on the rights of pregnant and parenting individuals under the new Title IX regulations.
1 Troy University OCR Resolution Agreement
2 34 C.F.R. § 106.40
3 34 C.F.R. § 106.40
4 Click here for OCR Pregnancy Resource Guide