Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School Association

Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School Association

Schools that accept special tax benefits should not be allowed to discriminate against their students. Public Justice filed an amicus brief asking the Fourth Circuit to affirm that federal civil rights laws like Title IX apply to schools that receive § 501(c)(3) tax breaks.

Five female students experienced sexual assault or verbal sexual harassment while they were enrolled at Concordia Preparatory School (previously Baltimore Lutheran High School), a private parochial school in Maryland. The students complained to the school, but officials failed to take their complaints seriously and did not take meaningful action in response to their reports.

The students brought Title IX and state law claims in Maryland federal court. Concordia Prep sought to dismiss the cases, arguing that Title IX did not apply to it because the law only applies to schools that receive “federal financial assistance,” and Concordia Prep did not receive federal funds. The district court disagreed. It reasoned that the school accepts 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and the benefits that come with it, which qualify as federal financial assistance. But the district court granted Concordia Prep’s request to certify the issue for interlocutory appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit.

In its appeal, Concordia Prep argues that tax-exempt status is not a form of federal financial assistance. On August 11, 2023, Public Justice filed an amicus brief in support of the students. The brief argues that government-conferred tax-exempt status, which saves institutions money on their taxes every year and allows them to raise money through tax-deductible contributions, is a form of federal financial assistance. The brief was joined by Equal Rights Advocates, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, and the Women’s Law Project.

Senior Attorney Sean Ouellette argued the case before the Fourth Circuit on behalf of these amici on January 25, 2024.

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