The Landmark Court Decision Protecting Students against Online Threats

Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Debra Katz was quoted in a Ms. Magazine article about the landmark Fourth Circuit decision in the case Feminists Majority Foundation v. University of Mary Washington. The 2015 complaint originated after students from the women’s rights organization, Feminists United, alleged that the University failed to appropriately respond to vicious online threats made through the messaging app, Yik Yak. The University claimed that it could not take action that may violate the harassers’ free speech rights. Ms. Katz, along with Lisa Banks, Carolyn Wheeler, and Joseph Abboud represented the Feminists United students.

In December 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of the Feminist Majority Foundation to reinstate both the Title IX sex discrimination claim and part of the Title IX retaliation claim. The Court held that the university had a duty to protect students against harassment – even if it occurs online – and held for the first time that students at public universities have a constitutional right to an educational environment free from student-on-student sexual harassment.

Ms. Katz applauded the Court’s decision: “In a very strong rebuke to the University of Mary Washington, the court made clear that universities must be responsible to the realities on the ground and to the changing technologies. Universities cannot duck behind weak excuses that they lack control over cyber harassment or that they cannot act because they don’t know the identity of the harassers.”

Read the full article here.