What is the 3-Prong Test of a Title IX Lawsuit?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Judges and lawyers spend a lot of their career interpreting laws and trying to find frameworks to apply those laws to different cases.  This helps them more quickly and easily analyze whether the case involves a violation of the law or not, and it gives people who have to follow those laws guidelines for effective compliance.  Under Title IX, which prevents sex-based discrimination in schools, there is a “3-prong” test to analyze whether a school’s athletics programs are equivalent for male and female students.  If you have been subjected to sex discrimination in education or you think that your school unfairly discriminates in athletics, call our Title IX violation lawyer at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin for help with your potential case.

What Is the Three-Prong Test for Title IX Lawsuits?

Title IX’s general goal is to make it illegal to discriminate among men and women in college education and college athletics, or between girls and boys in high school.  It has the added benefit of helping prevent sex and gender discrimination in schools and preventing sex discrimination against teachers and professors.  These laws were instituted in an era where women and girls were given fewer opportunities in high school and college education, so the law was initially used to build them up and prevent them from getting less than what the boys and men were getting – whether that be fewer education opportunities, fewer opportunities in sports, or less funding.

Sex discrimination in school athletics is just one example of the civil rights violations considered under Title IX, and the 3-prong test deals specifically with issues of equality in athletics.  This test is used by courts and by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to test for compliance.

What Are Title IX’s 3 Prongs?

Judges and OCR officers analyzing Title IX have many factors they consider in deciding whether people are being unfairly treated because of their sex.  In issues dealing with whether or not athletics programs are equal among the sexes, the analysis uses a 3-part test.

When confronted with a Title IX case, the court or the OCR will look at each of these 3 prongs in turn to see if the school meets the requirements of any of them.  These tests are applied in stages so that if the school fails the first prong, they will move on to the second, then the third.  If the school can pass any of the tests, there is typically no Title IX violation.  These 3 prongs of the test are as follows:

Prong 1: Proportionality

This prong of the test looks to see if the school’s athletics programs have a number of male and female students enrolled that is proportional to their overall representation in the student body.  This means that if a school is 50% male students and 50% female students, and the athletics are also split 50/50 – or close to it – the school is generally complying with Title IX.  If the student body at large is 50/50, but the athletics programs are 30% female and 70% male, for example, the school is not in compliance.

In order to comply, schools should ideally bolster the female athletics programs by adding new teams and opportunities, but many schools instead cut men’s athletics to balance the opportunities, leading to criticisms of Title IX’s rules and implementation.

Prong 2: Expansion

If a school has a history of having fewer programs and opportunities for female students, but they can show that they are working to expand their female athletics programs, they might be seen as complying with Title IX.  As long as the expansion is in line with the interest female students have shown in joining athletics programs, the school meets Title IX’s requirements even if they are still behind having equal male and female programs.

Prong 3: Accommodating Interests

If the programs are not equal, and they are not currently being expanded to meet student interests, then a school can show they are complying with Title IX by showing that they already meet the interests of the students.  If a school runs surveys and takes input from female students and they are essentially satisfied with having less funding or fewer athletics opportunities, then it is not considered a Title IX violation.  This could be the case in a school that provides other extracurricular activities and clubs that students might participate in, or it could happen in a school that simply has low interest in athletics.  However, schools must do their part to seek input so they can show there is not enough interest to add more teams or balance athletics opportunities.

Issues with the 3-Prong Test for Title IX

This test is often criticized as creating a “quota” system.  Schools claim that it unfairly punishes them for having fewer girls and women in athletics, and it often requires them to cut men’s and boys’ programs to balance the opportunities.

Another issue you may have noticed with this 3-prong test is that it primarily applies to athletics – and it only applies to the balance of opportunities for athletics.  This means that this test is essentially useless in understanding whether there is a Title IX violation in other areas of discrimination, such as discrimination in the classroom, dress code, sexual assault on campus, sexual harassment in the classroom, or LGBTQ+ discrimination in education.

Call Our Title IX Violation Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you think that your school might be violating Title IX by failing to provide equivalent school sports programs for male and female students, you may be entitled to file a Title IX claim.  These claims can help correct problems and get compensation for affected students.  Other instances of sex discrimination and sexual harassment in education can also lead to Title IX claims and lawsuits.  Call The Law Office of Andrew Shubin’s civil rights attorney at (814) 826-3586 for a free legal consultation on your case today.


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