Federal Funding Agency Methods to Enforce Compliance — Title IX Legal Manual
Agency staff should remember that the primary means of enforcing compliance with Title IX is through voluntary agreements with the recipients, and that fund suspension or termination is a means of last resort.113 This approach is set forth in the statute, is a reflection of congressional intent, and is recognized by the courts. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1; Board of Pub. Instruction of Taylor County, Fla. v. Finch, 414 F.2d 1068, 1075 n.11 (5th Cir. 1969) (citing 110 Cong. Rec. 7062 (1964) (Statement of Sen. Pastore)). Accordingly, if an agency believes an applicant is violating Title IX, the agency has three potential remedies:
(1) resolution of the noncompliance (or potential noncompliance) "by voluntary means" by entering into an agreement with the applicant, which becomes a condition of the assistance agreement; or
(2) where voluntary compliance efforts are unsuccessful, a refusal to grant or continue the assistance; or
(3) where voluntary compliance efforts are unsuccessful, referral of the violation to the Department of Justice for judicial action. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1. In addition, agencies may defer the decision whether to grant the assistance pending completion of a Title IX investigation, negotiations, or other action to obtain remedial relief.114
A. Efforts to Achieve Voluntary Compliance
Under Title IX, before an agency initiates administrative or judicial proceedings to compel compliance, it must attempt to obtain voluntary compliance from a recipient.
Compliance with any requirement adopted pursuant to this section may be effected (1) by the termination of or refusal to grant or to continue assistance under such program or activity to any recipient . . . or (2) by any other means authorized by law: Provided, however, that no such action shall be taken until the department or agency concerned . . . has determined that compliance cannot be secured by voluntary means.
42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1 (emphasis in original); seeAlabama NAACP State Conference of Branches v. Wallace, 269 F. Supp. 346, 351 (M.D. Ala. 1967) (voluntary compliance is to be effectuated if possible). Both the Title VI Coordination Regulations and the Title VI Guidelines urge agencies to seek voluntary compliance before, and throughout, the administrative or judicial process.115See 28 C.F.R. § 42.411(a) ("Effective enforcement of Title VI requires that agencies take prompt action to achieve voluntary compliance in all instances in which noncompliance is found."); 28 C.F.R. § 50.3 I.C.
Title VI requires that a concerted effort be made to persuade any noncomplying applicant or recipient voluntarily to comply with Title VI. Efforts to secure voluntary compliance should be undertaken at the outset in every noncompliance situation and should be pursued through each stage of enforcement action. Similarly, when an applicant fails to file an adequate assurance or apparently breaches its terms, notice should be promptly given of the nature of the noncompliance problem and of the possible consequences thereof, and an immediate effort made to secure voluntary compliance. Id.
An agency is not required to make formal findings of noncompliance with Title IX before undertaking negotiations or reaching a voluntary agreement to end alleged discriminatory practices. However, there must be a basis for an agency and recipient to enter into such a voluntary agreement (e.g., identification of alleged discriminatory practices, even if the parties do not agree as to the extent of such practices).116 In addition, throughout the negotiation process, agencies should be prepared with sufficient evidence to support administrative or judicial enforcement should voluntary negotiations fail.
An agency must balance its duty to permit informal resolution of findings of noncompliance against its duty to effectuate, without undue delay, the national policy prohibiting continued assistance to programs or activities which discriminate. Efforts to obtain voluntary compliance should continue throughout the process, but should not be allowed to become a device to avoid compliance.117 Once an area of noncompliance is identified, an agency is required to enforce Title IX.
1. Voluntary Compliance at the Pre-Award Stage
a. Special Conditions
As is done post-award, agencies may obtain compliance "by voluntary means" in the pre-award context by entering into an agreement with the applicant that enjoins the applicant from taking specified actions, requires that specified remedial actions be taken, and/or provides for other appropriate relief. The terms of the agreement become effective once the assistance is granted, and typically are attached as a special condition to the assistance agreement. Three issues arise by exercise of the voluntary compliance authority at the pre-award stage: what is the appropriate scope of special remedial conditions; what is the remedy if an applicant refuses to agree to a special condition proposed by an agency; and what is the remedy if, post-award, the recipient fails to comply with a special remedial condition of the assistance agreement.
When voluntary compliance is sought at the pre-award stage, agencies may exercise heightened flexibility in designing appropriate remedial conditions, for two reasons. First, if the pre-award remedy does not fully resolve the discrimination concern, agencies may have the opportunity to rectify this matter during the life of the assistance grant. Second, since a pre-award investigation and remedial efforts likely would require a deferral of the assistance award, it may be in the interest of the applicant (as well as potentially the agency) that interim measures be agreed to that allow the award to go forward while also addressing the discrimination concern. Thus, a pre-award special condition may grant provisional relief, require that certain aspects of the recipient's program be monitored, and/or require that the recipient provide additional information relating to the discrimination allegations. Of course, the mere fact that relief may be sought post-award does not necessarily mean that full relief, using voluntary means or otherwise, should not be sought pre-award.
Agency authority to attach special conditions to assistance agreements extends no further than the agency's authority to seek voluntary compliance. Thus, if an applicant refuses to agree to a proposed special remedial condition, the agency either would have to negotiate a different condition, award the assistance without the condition, seek to obtain compliance "by any other means authorized by law," or initiate administrative procedures to refuse to grant assistance. However, an agency may not refuse to grant assistance based solely on an applicant's refusal to accept a special condition unless the agency is prepared to make a finding of noncompliance and proceed to an administrative hearing. This is because the applicant has a right to challenge, through an administrative hearing, a refusal to grant assistance. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1.
Whether an agency may immediately suspend payment based on noncompliance with a previously imposed special remedial condition depends on the terms of the condition. As a general matter, if a recipient violates the terms of a special remedial condition, the noncompliance must be remedied in the same manner that any other post-award noncompliance is addressed -- through voluntary efforts, by the government filing suit, or by the agency suspending or terminating the assistance pursuant to the statutory procedure. If, however, as part of the remedial condition the applicant agrees that the agency immediately may suspend payment if noncompliance occurs, then that contractual provision would likely supersede the statutory protection against instant fund suspension that the recipient otherwise enjoys.
b. Use of Cautionary Language
If an agency has evidence at the time of the award which does not rise to the level of an actual violation by an applicant, and thus does not warrant refusal of a grant award, the agency may consider notifying the recipient in the grant award letter that the agency has a civil rights concern. The statement could acknowledge, where appropriate, the applicant's cooperation with an ongoing civil rights investigation or its attempts to resolve the concern.118 By including this language, the applicant is on notice that there may be a potential problem and that the funding arm is aware of what the civil rights arm is doing. It also warns that a failure to cooperate could lead to a denial of funds. The language also may encourage the applicant to enter into voluntary compliance negotiations and engage in alternative dispute resolution, in appropriate cases, to resolve the alleged discrimination at issue without a formal finding or the completion of an investigation. A major advantage of this approach is that it avoids the due process concerns raised when deferral or special conditioning is utilized because, in this case, the funds are being awarded, i.e., there is no "refusal to grant," which would trigger the right to an administrative hearing.
c. Other Nonlitigation Alternatives
The Title VI Guidelines list four other approaches, short of litigation or fund termination, that may be available when civil rights concerns are discovered. The possibilities listed include:
(1) consulting with or seeking assistance from other Federal agencies . . . having authority to enforce nondiscrimination requirements; (2) consulting with or seeking assistance from State or local agencies having such authority; (3) bypassing a recalcitrant central agency applicant in order to obtain assurances from or to grant assistance to complying local agencies; and (4) bypassing all recalcitrant non-Federal agencies and providing assistance directly to the complying ultimate beneficiaries.
28 C.F.R. § 50.3 I.B.2. Agencies that enforce Title IX are urged to consider all of these options, as appropriate.
B. "Any Other Means Authorized by Law:" Judicial Enforcement
The Department of Justice's statutory authority to sue in federal district court on behalf of an agency for violation of Title VI (and, likewise, Title IX) is contained in the phrase "by any other means authorized by law." See 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1; United States v. City and County of Denver, 927 F. Supp. 1396, 1400 (D. Colo. 1996); Ayers v. Allain, 674 F. Supp. 1523, 1551 n.6 (N.D. Miss. 1987); Marion County, 625 F.2d at 612-13 & n.14. In addition, the Department of Justice may pursue judicial enforcement through specific enforcement of assurances, certifications of compliance, covenants attached to property, desegregation or other plans submitted to the agency as conditions of assistance, or violations of other provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, other statutes, or the Constitution. SeeMarion County, 625 F.2d at 612; 28 C.F.R. § 50.3 I.B.
Agency regulations interpreting this phrase provide for several options including: 1) referral to the Department of Justice for proceedings, 2) referrals to State agencies, and 3) referrals to local agencies. E.g., 29 C.F.R. § 31.8(a) (Labor); 34 C.F.R. § 100.8 (Education); and 45 C.F.R. § 80.8(a) (HHS):
[C]ompliance may be effected by . . . other means authorized by law. Such other means may include, but are not limited to, (1) a reference to the Department of Justice with a recommendation that appropriate proceedings be brought to enforce any rights of the United States under any law of the United States (including other titles of the Act), or any assurance or contractual undertaking and (2) any applicable proceedings under State or local law.
In order to refer a matter to the Justice Department for litigation, agency regulations require that the funding agency make a finding that a violation exists and a determination that voluntary compliance cannot be achieved. The recipient must be notified of its failure to comply and must be notified of the intended agency action to effectuate compliance.119 Some agency regulations require additional time after this notification to the recipient to continue negotiation efforts to achieve voluntary compliance.120 It should be noted that the funding agency must in fact formally initiate referral of the matter to the Justice Department, because there is no automatic referral mechanism.
In United States v. Baylor Univ. Med. Ctr., 736 F.2d 1039 (5th Cir. 1984), the Fifth Circuit held that when a referral is made to the Department of Justice, and suit for injunctive relief is filed, a court can order termination of federal financial assistance as a remedy. However, the termination cannot become effective until 30 days have passed. The court reasoned that the congressional intent to allow a 30-day period when the administrative hearing route is followed (see 42 U.S.C. 2000d-1, which provides that the agency must file a report with Congress and 30 days must elapse before termination of the funds) evinces a congressional intent to likewise permit a 30-day grace period before a court's order to terminate funds takes effect.
C. Fund Suspension and Termination
Several procedural requirements must be satisfied before an agency may deny or terminate federal funds to an applicant/recipient. A four step process is involved:
1) the agency must notify the recipient that it is not in compliance with the statute and that voluntary compliance cannot be achieved;
2) after an opportunity for a hearing on the record, the "responsible Department official" must make an express finding of failure to comply.
3) the head of the agency must approve the decision to suspend or terminate funds; and
4) the head of the agency must file a report with the House and Senate legislative committees having jurisdiction over the programs involved and wait 30 days before terminating funds.121 The report must provide the grounds for the decision to deny or terminate the funds to the recipient or applicant. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1; 20 U.S.C. § 1682; See, e.g., 45 C.F.R. § 80.8(c) (HHS).
1. Fund Termination Hearings
As noted above, funds may not be terminated without providing the recipient an opportunity for a formal hearing. See, e.g., 28 C.F.R. § 42.109(a). If the recipient waives this right, a decision will be issued by the "responsible Department official" based on the record compiled by the investigative agency. Hearings on terminations cannot be held less than 20 days after receipt of notice of the violation. See, e.g., 45 C.F.R. § 80.9(a) (HHS).
Agencies have adopted the procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act for administrative hearings. See, e.g., 28 C.F.R. § 42.109(d) (Justice); 45 C.F.R. § 80.9 (HHS). Technical rules of evidence do not apply, although the hearing examiner may exclude evidence that is "irrelevant, immaterial, or unduly repetitious." See, e.g., 28 C.F.R. § 42.109(d); 45 C.F.R. § 80.9(d)(2)(HHS). The hearing examiner may issue an initial decision or a recommendation to the "responsible agency official." See, e.g., 28 C.F.R. 42.110. The recipient may file exceptions to any initial decision. In the absence of exceptions or review initiated by the "responsible department official," the hearing examiner's decision will be the final decision. A final decision that suspends or terminates funds, or imposes other sanctions, is subject to review and approval by the agency head. Upon approval, an order shall be issued that identifies the basis for noncompliance, and the action(s) that must be taken in order to come into compliance. A recipient may request restoration of funds upon a showing of compliance with the terms of the order, or if the recipient is otherwise able to show compliance with Title VI or Title IX. See, e.g., 28 C.F.R. § 42.110; 45 C.F.R. § 80.10(g). The restoration of funds is subject to judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-2; 20 U.S.C. § 1682. Moreover, as noted above, no funds may be terminated until 30 days after the agency head files a written report on the matter with the House and Senate committees having legislative jurisdiction over the program or activity involved. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1; 20 U.S.C. § 1682.
2. Agency Fund Termination Limited to the Particular Political Entity, or Part Thereof, that Discriminated
Congress specifically limited the effect of fund termination by providing that it
...shall be limited to the particular political entity, or part thereof, or other recipient as to whom such a finding has been made and, shall be limited in its effect to the particular program, or part thereof, in which such noncompliance has been so found, . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1; 20 U.S.C. § 1682. This is called the "pinpoint provision." As discussed below, the CRRA did not modify interpretations of this provision, but affected only the interpretation of "program or activity" for purposes of coverage of Title IX (and related statutes). See S. Rep. No. 64 at 20, reprinted in 1988 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 22.
Congress' intent was to limit the adverse effects of fund termination on innocent beneficiaries and to insure against the vindictive or punitive use of the fund termination remedy. Finch, 414 F.2d at 1075.122 "The procedural limitations placed on the exercise of such power were designed to insure that termination would be 'pinpoint(ed) . . . to the situation where discriminatory practices prevail.'" Id.(quoting 1964 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2512).
The seminal case on this issue is Finch, 414 F.2d 1068. A Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) hearing officer had found that the school district had made inadequate progress toward student and teacher desegregation and that the district had sought to perpetuate the dual school system through its construction program. Based on these findings, a final order was entered terminating "any class of Federal financial assistance" to the district "arising under any Act of Congress" administered by HEW, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of the Interior. Id. at 1071.
On appeal, the Fifth Circuit vacated the termination order, holding that it was in violation of the purpose and statutory scope of the agency's power. The "programs" in issue were three education statutes, yet the HEW officer had not made any specific findings as to whether there was discrimination in all three programs, and/or if action in one program tainted, or caused discriminatory treatment in, other programs. Id. at 1073-74, 79. The court paid considerable attention to the congressional intent of the pinpoint provision: limiting the termination power to "activities which are actually discriminatory or segregated" was designed to protect the innocent beneficiaries of untainted programs. Id. at 1077. The court further held that it was improper to construe Section 602 as placing the burden on recipients to limit the effect of termination orders by proving that certain programs are untainted by discrimination, rather than on an agency to establish the basis for findings as to the scope of discrimination. Id.
As to the meaning of the term "program" in the pinpoint proviso, the court concluded that the legislative history of Title VI evidenced a congressional intent that the term refer not to generic categories of programs by a recipient, but rather to specific programs of assistance, or specific statutes, administered by the federal government. Id. at 1077-78.123 Further, even if "program" was meant to refer to generic categories of aid, the parenthetical phrase, "or part thereof", must be given meaning. Thus, an agency's fund termination order must be based on program-specific (i.e., grant statute specific) findings of noncompliance. The Court reasoned that:
[T]he purpose of the Title VI [fund] cutoff is best effectuated by separate consideration of the use or intended use of federal funds under each grant statute. If the funds provided by the grant are administered in a discriminatory manner, or if they support a program which is infected by a discriminatory environment, then termination of such funds is proper. But there will also be cases from time to time where a particular program, within a state, within a county, within a district, even within a school (in short, within a "political entity or part thereof"), is effectively insulated from otherwise unlawful activities. Congress did not intend that such a program suffer for the sins of others. HEW was denied the right to condemn programs by association. The statute prescribes a policy of disassociation of programs in the fact finding process. Each must be considered on its own merits to determine whether or not it is in compliance with the Act. In this way the Act is shielded from a vindictive application. Schools and programs are not condemned enmasse or in gross, with the good and the bad condemned together, but the termination power reaches only those programs which would utilize federal money for unconstitutional ends.
The specificity required for fund termination was also addressed by the Seventh Circuit in Gautreaux v. Romney, 457 F.2d 124 (7th Cir. 1972). In Gautreaux, the court reversed a district court's order approving federal fund termination for a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program where there were no findings of discrimination in such program, and where such action was pursued in an effort to pressure action to remedy the defendant's discriminatory conduct in a wholly separate HUD program. Id. at 127-128. The district court had previously found that defendants had violated fair housing laws yet intended to withhold Model Cities Program funds, which primarily support education, job training, and day care programs on behalf of low and moderate income families. Although a small portion of Model Cities money also supported public housing, there was no allegation or finding that any Model Cities program was operated in a discriminatory fashion. Id. at 126-27. Accordingly, the court of appeals held that the district court violated Section 602 of Title VI and the "mandate of" Finch, and abused its discretion in withholding the Model Cities funds. Id. at 128.
It is equally critical to note that, notwithstanding the need for an independent evaluation of each program, an agency (or reviewing court) must examine not only whether the Federal funds are "administered in a discriminatory manner, . . . [but also] if they support a program which is infected by a discriminatory environment." Finch, 414 F.2d 1068, 1078-79 (emphasis added). Not all programs operate in isolation. Thus,
the administrative agency seeking to cut off federal funds must make findings of fact indicating either that a particular program is itself administered in a discriminatory manner, or is so affected by discriminatory practices elsewhere in the [overall operation, e.g., school system] that it thereby becomes discriminatory.
Id. at 1079; seeNorth Haven, 456 U.S. at 539 (approval of HEW Title IX regulations that adopt the Finch "infection" standard.) This latter analysis is often referred to as the "infection theory." Although Finch and Gautreaux were decided prior to passage of the CRRA, it is important to recognize that while the CRRA defined the meaning of "program or activity" for purposes of prohibited conduct, it did not change the definition of such terms for purposes of fund termination for a violation of Title IX. In particular, the CRRA left intact the "pinpoint" provision that limits any fund termination to the "program, or part thereof, in which noncompliance has been so found." 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1.