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October 19, 2017

Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

A national women's rights group is suing U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for rescinding an Obama-era directive on how colleges handle sexual assault complaints.

On Thursday, the organization Equal Means Equal and three unnamed students filed the first federal lawsuit against DeVos alleging the Education Department is violating civil rights laws.

All three women, who have pending sexual assault cases before the Department's Office for Civil Rights, argue that DeVos' policy change violates their rights to equitable treatment under Title IX and want the more stringent Obama-era policies applied to their cases.

In September, DeVos scrapped Obama-era rules, saying schools should continue to investigate complaints but that the Department would ease requirements to make the process more fair. DeVos also issued temporary guidance allowing schools to use a higher standard of evidence when handling sexual assault complaints.

Attorney Wendy Murphy is leading the case and accuses DeVos of undermining efforts to address sexual assault on campuses.

"I think it's confusing to schools that they're getting mixed messages that they're required to treat women as fully equal campus citizens under state law, but DeVos says they can violate women's rights under federal law," Murphy said.

The lawsuit argues that schools in Massachusetts can't comply with DeVos' guidelines because state law has stricter requirements.

A department official says the Trump administration is committed to issuing new guidelines after public comment.

Earlier: Survivors, Colleges Grapple With DeVos Plan To Rescind Sexual Assault Guidelines

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