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Does Title IX apply to co-ops and interns?

May 8, 2017

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Summer is approaching and many employers hire co-ops, interns and work study students during that time period.  When employing a student and the student is the object of harassment, the question is whether the student can seek relief under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Act), Title IX of the Act, or both.  A recent case from the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals answered affirmatively that both could apply. 

In the case of Doe v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center, No. 16-1247 (3d Circuit Court of Appeals, March 7, 2017), the question before the court is whether a medical resident has standing to sue for Title IX violations for harassment experienced as a resident at the hospital.  The trial court dismissed the claim and on appeal, the 3rd Circuit reversed and allowed the claim.  Doe claimed that the head of the residency program had sexually harassed her and when she complained, the doctor committed a number of aggressive and clear transgressions against her.   

First, the court had to answer whether the hospital was included under the Title IX jurisdiction.  The court discussed that Title IX extends to “education programs or activities,” and not just traditional educational institutions and should be broadly read.  Second, the court reviewed what an educational program and activity is and found that it should be defined as “features such that one could reasonably consider its mission to be, at least in part, educational.”   More specifically, the court recognized that an educational program or activity can fall under one of the following:

(A) a program is incrementally structured through a particular course of study or training, whether full- or part-time; (B) a program allows participants to earn a degree or diploma, qualify for a certification or certification examination, or pursue a specific occupation or trade beyond mere on-the-job training; (C) a program provides instructors, examinations, an evaluation process or grades, or accepts tuition; or (D) the entities offering, accrediting, or otherwise regulating a program hold it out as educational in nature.

The residency program required daily morning lectures presented by faculty and afternoon case presentations given by residents under faculty or attending physicians’ supervision. Doe also took a mandatory physics class taught on Drexel’s campus, attended monthly radiology lectures and society meetings, joined in interdepartmental conferences, and sat for annual examinations to assess her progress and competence.  Therefore, the court held that he hospital’s residency program fell under Title IX requirements.

Second, the court held that because the hospital, although it did not receive direct federal educational funding, did receive indirect payments from government for Medicare which helped in part fund the educational program.  Further, she did not have to exhaust her administrative process, unlike Title VII, to have an action filed.  Finally, the court held that she had a private cause of action against the hospital for Title IX violations even though she had a hybrid “employee” status.  However, some claims were time barred and could not be pursued.

Title IX, in part, has broader remedies than Title VII.  Where Title VII has caps on awards, Title IX doesn’t.  Therefore, at the minimum, employers hiring interns, co-ops and work-study students where schools may receive reimbursement for the salaries paid may be covered.  However, Title IX should not apply to an employer for simply having a federal contract.  If Title IX does apply to the interns, co-ops and work-study students working at the facility, be extra vigilant in investigations and resolutions.  Involve the school if necessary, as the school may also have liability, to ascertain all required steps necessary to resolve the issues.  For more information about the scope of Title IX, click here.

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