Grabowski v. Arizona Board of Regents

Grabowski v. Arizona Board of Regents

Public Justice filed an amicus brief in support of the appellant in Grabowski v. Arizona Board of Regents, a Title IX case.

In August 2017, Michael Grabowski enrolled at the University of Arizona as a freshman on academic and athletic scholarships. Almost as soon as he joined the University’s cross-country/track team, Michael’s teammates started harassing him on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation. They regularly called him “gay,” “homosexual,” and “fag.” Plaintiff and his parents informed a number of University officials about the harassment. Yet they took no action to stop it. When Michael made yet another report of harassment at the start of his sophomore year, one coach told Michael that he couldn’t “single out the two top runners on the team” — suggesting the coach was more interested in protecting his star athletes from punishment than in protecting Michael from harassment. Shortly thereafter, his coaches kicked Michael off the team. As a result, he lost his athletic scholarship.

Michael filed suit under Title IX in the District of Arizona. The district court dismissed Michael’s deliberate indifference claim and then, later, his remaining retaliation claim. In doing so, the court wrongly held that Title IX does not prohibit harassment based on sexual orientation, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination. The court also held that Michael had not engaged in a protected activity because the harassment he reported was not sufficiently “severe and pervasive” to make out a claim for money damages, even though Michael had a good faith belief that he was reporting sex discrimination.

Michael appealed to the Ninth Circuit. On August 16, 2022, Public Justice filed an amicus brief in support of Michael. The brief was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization, Atlanta Women for Equality, the Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues, Equal Rights Advocates, Family Violence Appellate Project, Human Rights Campaign, Know Your IX, Legal Aid at Work, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Youth Law, the National Women’s Law Center, Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, the Sikh Coalition, University of Arizona Pride Law, and the Women’s Law Project.

The Ninth Circuit heard oral argument in the case on March 8, 2023. Public Justice argued on behalf of amici.

On June 13, 2023, the Ninth Circuit published a unanimous opinion reversing the district court in part and allowing Michael’s lawsuit to move forward. Adopting amici’s reasoning, the court held in unambiguous terms that Bostock applies to Title IX and that schools must address harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation. The court also held that the harassment Michael alleged was sufficiently severe and pervasive to state a claim under Title IX.

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