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Gendered Slurs on the Schoolyard: Unlawful Harassment or “Simple Teasing”?

Jul 06, 2023

Marquette Sports Law Review recently ran a special edition in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Title IX. OIG attorney investigator and mediator Ilona Turner contributed the piece, “Gendered Slurs on the Schoolyard: Unlawful Harassment or ‘Simple Teasing’?

The article grapples with one of the difficulties in sexual harassment law under Title IX: determining whether bullying that uses words defined by reference to gender may be viewed by courts as actionable harassment on the basis of sex.

There is no question there are many negative words that target gender. Specifically, these are insults designed to be used against women and girls. Courts have held that the use of such terms can even be defamatory per se. Nonetheless, under both Title IX and other sex discrimination laws, courts sometimes hesitate to recognize the use of gender-based slurs as a form of unlawful harassment on the basis of sex. A significant reason for this reticence seems to be how common such terms are, particularly among young people.

Ilona explores this topic, providing a deep dive into the legal background and patterns in courts’ treatment of gendered slurs under Title IX, along with several specific case law examples.