Lawsuits Aim to Block DeVos’s New Sexual Misconduct Rules

“The president has repeatedly shown that he doesn’t think sexual harassment is a serious matter, but his callousness now threatens our youngest and most vulnerable and could increase the likelihood of sexual harassment and abuse of students in schools,” Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, said in a statement announcing the suit.

The attorneys general suits are being supported by two dozen higher education organizations that have urged Ms. DeVos to delay the enactment of the rules, which would require colleges to drastically overhaul the way they investigate sexual harassment in order to comply with Title IX, the 48-year-old federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Although the new rules relieve schools of some legal liabilities they faced under previous administrations, they require new staff, training and procedures, such as live hearings and advisers that cross-examine parties.

In an amicus brief, organizations like the American Council on Education, which represents 1,700 college presidents, wrote that they were given 87 days to “restructure thousands of institution-specific policies and procedures in order to comply with scores of new administrative mandates.”

“A hasty rush to ‘get into compliance’ by Aug. 14 will almost assuredly negatively affect the quality of the policies and procedures that institutions scramble to craft in order to meet the arbitrarily set deadline,” the institutions wrote. “College and university staffs are in a zero sum game in terms of their available bandwidth at this time.”

The department pointed out that similar rules took effect far more quickly under previous administrations, citing the 47 days that schools had to come into compliance with rules issued in 1975, and 30 days they had in 2000 and 2006.

“No one seemed to complain when the Obama administration’s ‘dear colleague letter’ took effect immediately,” the department said, referring to guidelines issued in 2011 and 2014 that Ms. DeVos’s rule would replace.

But plaintiffs say the rules are far more consequential than the Obama-era guidelines.

“The rule will reverse decades of effort to end the corrosive effects of sexual harassment on equal access to education — a commitment that, until now, has been shared by Congress and the executive branch across multiple elections and administrations,” the attorneys general lawsuit said.