In an April 22, 2016, findings letter concluding its investigation into the University of New Mexico’s policies and practices regarding sex discrimination, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found the university improperly defined sexual harassment. DOJ flatly declared that “[u]nwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”—including “verbal conduct”—is sexual harassment “regardless of whether it causes a hostile environment or is quid pro quo.”
To comply with Title IX, DOJ states that a college or university “carries the responsibility to investigate” all speech of a sexual nature that someone subjectively finds unwelcome, even if that speech is protected by the First Amendment or an institution’s promises of free speech.
The shockingly broad conception of sexual harassment mandated by DOJ all but guarantees that colleges and universities nationwide will subject students and faculty to months-long investigations—or worse—for protected speech.
This latest findings letter doubles down on the unconstitutional and controversial “blueprint” definition of sexual harassment jointly issued by DOJ and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in a May 2013 findings letter to the University of Montana. FIRE and other civil liberties advocates at the time warned that the controversial language threatens the free speech and academic freedom rights of students and faculty members.