When Medical Residents Claim Sex Discrimination: Which Law Applies, Title VII or Title IX? September 30, 2016

By Susan C. Stone

Most everyone knows that medical residents are in the final stretch of their education.  They tend to put in long hours with little pay.  In essence, residents have one leg out of their years of schooling and one leg into their professional careers.  So, a legal question occurs when residents have claims of gender discrimination or sexual harassment as to which law applies: Title VII, which addresses claims of discrimination for paid employees, or Title IX, which addresses gender discrimination claims for students?

While the law squarely allows for Title VII protection since residents are technically being paid, courts are split when it comes to the application of Title IX for residents.  At this time, the Sixth Circuit has yet to rule on the issue and other circuits are split.  Some courts, such as the First Circuit, have held that medical residents have the right to bring a case under Title IX.   This claim can benefit residents since Title IX does not require the exhaustion of administrative remedies and in most states has broader statute of limitations than the rules governing Title VII.  However, another district court refused to apply Title IX and dismissed a discrimination complaint brought by a medical resident.  This case is now being appealed in the Third Circuit and the United States government recently filed a brief advocating that Title IX should apply since residencies are training programs that receive federal funding. Again, residents are still students.

If you are a medical resident facing sex discrimination or sexual harassment, it is important that you work with a lawyer who understands both employment and education law to ensure that you needs are met regardless of which law applies to your claim.

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