Title IX and Pregnancy Discrimination in Higher Education: The New Frontier


Pregnancy discrimination is a little known area covered by Title IX. According to the Title IX regulations, areas of prohibited discrimination include: admissions; hiring; coursework accommodations and completion; pregnancy leave policies and status protection upon return from leave; and health insurance coverage. These regulations will soon get more attention as the Obama Administration insists on Title IX dissemination and compliance in an effort to stop the leaky pipeline for women in the STEM fields. Research shows that pregnancy and childbirth are the major reasons why women drop out of research science in much greater numbers than men; this dropout is most likely to occur among graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are in their peak childbearing years. A similar pattern of dropout can be seen in all fields, including related professional schools. Research also reveals that there are currently few established policies in higher education which adequately address pregnancy and childbirth in formal policies for students.

This article will address new efforts by the United States Department of Education and the federal agencies to begin to seek compliance relating to Title IX and pregnancy discrimination in educational institutions. It will discuss the recent successful efforts of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in investigating and settling pregnancy discrimination claims as well as the lessons learned in private action lawsuits under Title IX. Title IX private action suits have transformed athletics for women, and more recently Title IX has been applied in sexual harassment cases. Pregnancy discrimination is now the new frontier.

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