March 13, 2017

Residency programs can be sued for gender discrimination under Title IX, court says

Daily Briefing

    The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously last week that residency programs can be sued under Title IX if they fail to protect medical residents from gender discrimination.

    According to the Department of Education, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding.

    Background

    The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by a former radiology resident at Mercy Catholic Medical Center—known as Jane Doe—who alleged that she was forced out of her program after denying unwanted sexual advances by her supervisor. She sued Mercy in April 2015, alleging retaliation and quid pro quo harassment under Title IX.

    Mercy Catholic, which is affiliated with Drexel University's College of Medicine, sought to have the case dismissed because of legal standing, contending that it does not have to abide by Title IX because it is not an educational institution. The center also said a residency program could not be considered an educational program because residents are compensated for their work and they do not pay tuition.

    A lower court had ruled that Doe could not sue under Title IX because residency programs do not primarily provide education "by way of schooling." The case was appealed to the 3rd Circuit.

    Residency program qualifies under Title IX, 3rd Circuit rules

    In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel on the 3rd Circuit reversed the lower court decision, holding that the residency program qualifies as an educational program under Title IX. However, the appeals court did not rule on the merits of Doe's claims, and the judges remanded the case back to the lower court for further consideration.

    Specifically, the 3rd Circuit Court ruled that Title IX applies to institutions that provide education in a broader sense, even if education is not the organization's sole purpose. Judge Michael Fisher, who authored the opinion on behalf of the panel, said because Mercy has education accreditation, and because Mercy's residency program is affiliated with Drexel University's College of Medicine, "it's plausible [the program] … makes its mission, at least in part, educational under Title IX."  

    According to The Legal Intelligencer, the 3rd Circuit's ruling is similar to other federal appeals courts' rulings that extended Title IX protections to programs that don't provide traditional "schooling," such as prison education programs.

    Industry impact

    Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois, said the ruling was significant. "This is going to be felt throughout the industry," she said.

    According to Modern Healthcare, a spokesperson for Mercy Health System, the parent of Mercy Catholic Medical Center, declined to comment on the ruling (Raymond, Reuters, 3/8; Castellucci, Modern Healthcare, 3/9; McParland, The Legal Intelligencer, 3/7). 

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