Last summer we blogged about a peer harassment case filed against the Mohawk School District in upstate New York. The plaintiff, an openly-gay ninth grader named Jacob, claims that the district violated Title IX by failing to protect him from anti-gay bullying and harassment by his peers.
Recently, the Department of Justice filed for leave to intervene on Jacob's behalf. It plans to advance the argument that Title IX's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex extends to discrimination targeting a plaintiff for their failure to comply with gender stereotypes such as that which Jacob endured. This theory of Title IX has been applied by several courts in the past, but other courts (more often in employment rather than education cases) have ruled that gay plaintiffs are not protected by sex discrimination statute because they are targeted because of their sexual orientation rather than their sex.
While DoJ cannot dictate how courts interpret the laws it enforces, its interpretation is often more persuasive to courts than ordinary litigants'. Thus, the Obama administration's motion to intervene is a significant step toward universalizing a broader interpretation of Title IX that gives much-needed protection against bullying that targets LGBT students and those so perceived.