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Title IX: Federal and State Law – Does Federal Law Trump Bad State Law?

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Title IX Law Cory Watson Attorneys

Sexual assault survivors often feel abandoned and unsure of their rights. Survivors typically turn to their state and local laws, only to feel disappointment and without hope for their case. Any state or local law that may be in conflict with Title IX would be in violation of a survivor’s federal civil rights. Under federal law, Title IX overrides conflicting state law to protect survivors of sexual assault so that actions may be taken against a college, university, and/or its administrators.

What is the difference between state and federal law?

Federal law is created at the national level and applies to all fifty states including the District of Columbia and United States territories.  Established in the United States Constitution, federal law allows the government to use its powers to protect the rights of all United States citizens.  State laws only apply to its governing state and exist together with federal law.  However, sometimes federal law may conflict with a state law, leaving the question of which law applies when a conflict exists.

How do courts resolve conflict of law issues?

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution states that federal law preempts state law when state and federal laws conflict.  Preemption means that when a state and federal law apply to the same issue, the federal law trumps the state law.  Lawmakers and Judges must follow the Constitution and adhere to the Supremacy Clause under all circumstances.

How does this apply to Title IX?

Under federal law, Title IX provides protection for survivors of sexual assault through equal opportunity for education of students.  Under Title IX, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  This “discrimination” incudes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape that “is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”  Through Title IX students may seek remedy when discriminated against based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.

What does that mean for student’s rights under Title IX?

Survivors who believe they have been discriminated against or wronged on the basis of sex can move forward with a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education or in a civil lawsuit against a college or university that receives federal funding.  In addition to seeking remedy through a federal claim, survivors may also recover through state law claims in a civil lawsuit.  Therefore, when a state law is not in conflict with federal law, the survivor may file suit and recover under state law in addition to federal law claims like Title IX.

There is a need to understand the laws so that when faced with overwhelming uncertainty and fear, sexual assault survivors know where to turn and recognize their rights.  With a thorough understanding of the laws and its application, survivors are given a voice to confidently proceed in seeking the justice they deserve.


This blog was recently featured by End Rape on Campus. Cory Watson Attorneys works directly with EROC in assisting survivors of campus sexual violence to hold accountable their assailants and the colleges and universities accountable. End Rape on Campus works to end campus sexual violence through direct support for survivors and their campus communities; prevention through education; and policy reform at the campus, local, state, and federal levels. They envision a world in which every individual has an educational experience free from violence, and until then, that all survivors are believed, trusted, and supported. When survivors require legal assistance beyond EROC’s scope, Cory Watson steps in. Cory Watson stands with all survivors of sex crimes.

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