Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Roundup of Recent Harassment Cases

Here are summaries of the four most recent federal court decisions in cases involving Title IX and sexual harassment. All four are favorable to the plaintiffs.
  • The federal district court in Arkansas denied the Fayetteville School District's motion to dismiss several of plaintiff Billy Wolfe's claims that its failure protect him from anti-gay harassment violated Title IX and the U.S. Constitution. The court also left open the possibility that the plaintiff could receive punitive damages if he prevails on his Title IX claim. Wolfe v. Fayetteville, Arkansas School Dist., 2009 WL 485400 (W.D. Ark. Feb 26, 2009).
  • A federal court in Michigan denied the Merrill Community School District's motion to dismiss Title IX claim sexual harassment suit brought by an eighth grade girl who was raped by a ninth grade boy. The plaintiff alleged that the school district knew of the boy's prior sexual misconduct at his former school, his general disciplinary problems, and several acts of aggression and harassment against the plaintiff that preceded the rape. The court reasoned that it would be possible for a jury to conclude based on these facts that the district's response constituted the deliberate indifference required for Title IX liability to attach. Doe v. Merrill Community School District, 2009 WL 817534 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 26, 2009).
  • Parents' Title IX claim against the School District stemming from a teacher's sexual abuse and harassment of their first grade children survived the district's motion to dismiss. The court rejected the district's argument that the parents had not provided adequate notice of to anyone in the district with authority to curtail the teacher's ongoing conduct. The plaintiffs alleged that three different sets of parents informed the principal and assistant principal over the span of three months that the teacher had asked a student for a massage under his clothes, that he regularly isolated female students, that he had "bounced a student on his lap in a strange manner," and that the teacher was making the first graders uncomfortable with his touching. (Really? The school district did nothing with this information?) Doe ex rel. Doe v. White, 2009 WL 890557 (C.D. Ill. Mar. 30, 2009).
  • Citing the Supreme Court's recent decision in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, the federal district court in Arizona granted a plaintiff's motion to reconsider the court's earlier dismissal of her Equal Protection claim on the grounds it was preempted in by Title IX. Power v. Gilbert Public Schools, 2009 WL 890482 (D. Ariz. Mar. 31, 2009).