Friday, February 03, 2012

Sexual Harassment Roundup

Federal courts recently issued decisions in a couple of Title IX sexual harassment decisions.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss claims filed by a former student that the University of the Pacific failed to protect her from sexual assault by three members of the men's basketball team because they were deliberately indifferent to an earlier rape involving one of the assailants in her case. The court of appeals rejected that a general description of the attackers in the earlier rape and an officer's "suspicion" as to his identity constituted "actual notice" that a student involved in the plaintiff's rape was a threat to fellow students, as required for Title IX liability to attach. The court also rejected the plaintiff's argument that the university's Judicial Hearing Board's decision to expel one rather than all three of the assailants constituted deliberate indifference. The decision to suspend two of the assailants instead, and subject them to sexual assault awareness education and a probationary status, was not an unreasonable response to known incident of sexual assault. Doe v. University of the Pacific, 2012 WL 269901 (9th Cir. Jan. 31, 2012).

A federal district court in Delaware dismissed a Title IX lawsuit against Caesar Rodney High School, in which the plaintiff, a student, alleged that school officials were indifferent to her report that she was being physically abused by her boyfriend who was also a student. The court concluded that the school responded reasonably to the student's and her mother's reports about the violence, including having the assailant arrested and suspending him for criminal violence that occurred on school grounds, allowing the plaintiff to leave early from her classes and changing her locker assignment to limit her exposure to him in the hallway, and calling the police to report harassing text messages he sent to her outside of school. The court rejected the plaintiff's argument that school did not protect her from harassment by the assailant's friends, because she did not allege that she had reported to this to appropriate school officials or to any school personnel with sufficient time for response. The court also discounted alleged statements by school officials that plaintiff argued indicated their indifference (such as the plaintiff being told she is a "strong girl" who could overcome what was happening to her), reasoning that the statements were "rebutted by the actions taken" to address incidents of harassment. P.K. ex rel. Hassinger v. Caesar Rodney High School, 2012 WL 253439 (D. Del. Jan. 27, 2012)