In Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller PLLC, the Supreme Court applied contracting principles to four federal laws under which aggrieved people can sue for damages. In doing so, the Court found that emotional distress damages were not foreseeable by recipients of federal funds—including educational institutions that receive federal funds and are thus covered by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972—and so cannot be awarded in such cases.
The Court’s decision may lead to a significant shift in the valuation of cases brought under Title IX. While not the only source of claims, considerations for emotional damages can make up a significant part of a litigant’s sought award. This applies both to those who file a suit as a complainant in the Title IX process, and those who file as a respondent. It may cause some litigants, or their attorneys, to shift considerations for litigation when comparing legal costs with potential awards. This may result in claims that would have been brought as litigation going instead to the Office for Civil Rights,
which may require policy or practice changes or a change to a case outcome after an
investigation, but does not award money damages.
Congress may consider amendments to Title IX and the other laws covered by the case that would specifically allow for such damages in future cases. This could find some bipartisan support, since it impacts litigation brought by complainants and respondents but, in consideration of the other laws covered, such a legislative push may be complicated and challenging.