Tennessee v. Cardona, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106559

A federal district court judge in Kentucky issued a preliminary injunction on June 17, 2024 against the Department of Education’s new 2024 Title IX regulations that are set to go into effect on August 1, 2024. The injunction issued by the Kentucky judge is limited to the six plaintiff-states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and West Virginia. There are multiple other lawsuits across the country with pending motions for preliminary injunctions that also may impact when the Department’s Title IX Final Rules will go into effect.

The Final Rules released by the Department in April include an expanded definition of “discrimination on the basis of sex” based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton Cty., 590 U.S. 644, 681–83 (2020), that seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in a Title VII case. The federal district court held that the new regulations will dramatically alter the purpose and meaning of Title IX, and issued a preliminary injunction to pause the implementation of the 2024 Title IX regulations until the case may proceed further for the following reasons:

  • The Department’s interpretation likely exceeds its statutory authority,
  • The Department’s actions were arbitrary and capricious,
  • The Department’s reading goes against the major questions doctrine,
  • The Clear statement rule under the Spending Clause weighs against the new Title IX regulations,
  • The Plaintiffs raised valid First Amendment free speech concerns, and
  • The Department’s reading likely violates parental rights.

According to the court, the original goal of Title IX was to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, and participate in society based on their individual talents and capacities, and that before the last decade, the words “sex” and “discrimination on the basis of sex” had universally been understood to refer to biological sex under the statute. The court disagreed with the Department’s reliance on Bostock. The majority in Bostock claimed the decision did not apply beyond Title VII to other federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination, and the dissent warned about how the ruling could be misapplied in the school context. 

Citing last week’s different decision in Texas, in which a federal district court in the 5th Circuit enjoined the Department’s 2021 guidance, the court reminded the Department that federal agencies “…lack the authority to rewrite clear statutory terms to suit its own sense of how the statute should operate.” Texas v. Cardona, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103452, at 85.

For purposes of Title IX, the court found that the term “sex” unambiguously refers to biological sex, and that Congress did not implicitly delegate its authority to change or expand that meaning to the Department. Similarly, Title IX was enacted as an exercise of Congress’ power under the Spending Clause which requires the government to condition the receipt of federal funds “unambiguously” so that states may be cognizant of the consequences of their participation and exercise their choice knowingly. South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 207 (1987). But the court found that the Final Rule’s language provides no indication that an institution’s receipt of federal funds is conditioned on any sort of mandate concerning gender identity.

Lastly, the court cautioned that the new Title IX regulations may infringe on the constitutional rights of students, staff, and parents. The court found that the Final Rules require districts to treat children consistent with their gender identities on school grounds, even if that conflicts with parental preferences.  The court cautions that the Department’s reading of Title IX may require districts to enter the “private realm of family life” that has been afforded both substantive and procedural protections.

What this means for your district

The preliminary injunction issued by the federal district judge in Kentucky within the 6thCircuit this week pauses the Title IX Final Rules implementation in the six states involved, including Ohio, but only temporarily. As the case progresses to a full hearing, the injunction may be lifted or a permanent injunction could be issued. There is also potential that one of the other pending lawsuits impacts how the Final Rules are implemented. We may not have a definitive answer on compliance with the new Title IX regulations until these cases make their way through the court system. In the meantime, districts should continue to prepare for the new rules, even if they are currently delayed, to ensure they are prepared to implement Title IX provisions if and when they go into effect. This decision does not reverse or modify the 6th Circuit precedent concerning Title IX and students within K-12 schools. Consult your legal counsel.