Monday, December 02, 2013

Harassment cases roundup

Here are summaries of November decisions in Title IX sexual harassment cases: 

A federal judge in Massachusetts refused to dismiss a Title IX case against Stoughton Public Schools, stemming from an incident in which students circulated nude photographs of the female student plaintiff, precipitating name-calling like "slut" and "whore."  The judge agreed that the plaintiff's allegations, if proven to a jury, could satisfy both the requirement of hostile environment, given that many students were involved and that the hostility was prolonged over many months, as well as deliberate indifference, since the plaintiff claims that the school did not impose any discipline on the students involved, or even call their parents.  Doe v. Town of Stoughton, 2013 WL 6195794 (D. Mass. Nov. 25, 2013).

A federal judge in Arizona determined that a graduate student plaintiff's entire Title IX claim against the Arizona Board of Regents was timely, even though some of the instances of harassment and retaliation she experienced after breaking off a relationship with a faculty member were outside the two-year statute of limitations.  Hostile environment harassment claims constitute a "continuing violation."  Under this designation, since some components of her hostile environment claim took place within two years before she filed suit, the court will consider the entire timeline of harassing events.   Kunzi v. Arizona Board of Regents, 2013 WL 6178210 (D. Ariz. Nov. 25, 2013).  

Similarly, a case against the University of Michigan was allowed to proceed despite a motion for the university that argued that the case was untimely.  There, the plaintiff, a female engineering graduate student, alleged that she was subjected to severe and pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination by her male peers, as well as retaliation by university faculty and employees. The court denied the university's motion to dismiss because even though the harassment began earlier than the statute of limitations period, the plaintiff alleged some instances of harassment, deliberate indifference, and retaliation that occurred within the limitations period.  Dibbern v. University of Michigan, 2013 WL 6068808 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 18, 2013).
A student's Title IX case against the Board of Education in Prince George's County, Maryland, was dismissed after a court ruled that a reasonably juror could not find evidence of deliberate indifference on the part of school officials.  In this case, the plaintiff was sexually assaulted by another boy after experiencing (and reporting) several earlier instances of sexualized misconduct by that same boy.  Yet school officials responded to each earlier instance in a reasonable manner, addressing them by such means as talking to the offending student, assigning the offending student to separate classes, requiring that he serve a five-day in-school suspension.  According to the court, imposing liability on the school on these facts would discourage schools from imposing any punishment other than expulsion for any instance of sexual harassment regardless of its nature. Doe v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's County, 2013 WL 6065269 (D. Md. Nov. 18, 2013).  

A female wrestler's Title IX claim against her school district can go forward, after a court determined that her complaint adequately alleged that she had put proper school officials on notice of sexualized and gender-biased harassing comments by the wrestling team's two assistant coaches.  Moeck v. Pleasant Valley Sch. Dist., 2013 WL 6048131 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 14, 2013).