Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Litigation Roundup

Two separate Title IX lawsuits have been filed recently, one challenging disparities in athletic opportunities at a high school, while the other alleges a college mishandled her complaint of having been raped by a fellow student.
  • A parent in Englewood, Tennessee, is suing the McMinn County Board of Education on behalf of his daughter, a freshman at McMinn Central High School who participates in softball and volleyball.  He alleges that disparities in the athletic opportunities for girls violate Title IX. In particular, he alleges that the softball team has to pay itself for field maintenance and equipment, amenities that are provided to boys' teams from the school budget.  Also, the school does not provide the softball team with a lighted field, which limits the team's scheduling options for practices and games. The complaint also notes that the boys' baseball team is provided superior quality locker rooms, dugouts, field house, storage facility, playing surface, and warm up and practice areas. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against continued discrimination and damages to compensate the plaintiff for out-of-pocket expenses and other costs. 
  • A former student is suing the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, claiming that she was forced to withdraw after she reported to school officials that she had been raped by a fellow student at an off-campus party.  She alleges that school officials responded to her report by advising her to leave school, since they could not guarantee her safety. Additionally, she claims that they did not administer a drug test, leaving her on her own to discover that her assailant had drugged her with diazepam, that they failed to protect her from further contact with him, that they threatened to sue her if she spoke out, and that they breached her confidentiality. Moreover, she alleges that she experienced a sexually hostile environment after a school employee who was dating the alleged, disclosed details of the incident to the campus community.  Her complaint demands damages to compensate her for emotional distress and other costs, as well as an injunction that would require the school to do a better job responding to victims in the future by implementing drug tests and protecting them from harassment and retaliation.

And in another story, a Title IX lawsuit was partially dismissed.
  • The Bibb County School District in Georgia prevailed in dismissing part of a student's Title IX claim seeking damages for a 2012 rape she suffered at the hands of a gang of fellow students who had orchestrated a plan to attack her in a school restroom.  The student alleged that two prior instances of gang rape at the school, one in 2008 and another in 2002, should have put the school on notice of the threat, one of the required elements for institutional liability to attach in cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence among peers. But the court ruled that the two earlier gang rapes could not serve as notice because they were sufficiently different, having been conducted by different gangs than the one that raped the plaintiff. In imposing this requirement for gang-specific notice, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that the school's notice of a gang rape problem in general should suffice.  The plaintiff's other argument, that the school also responded to her own rape with deliberate indifference, continues to be litigated.  The remaining claim could potentially result in damages attributable to the school's indifferent response, which itself could have been the source of some independent emotional distress. However, the dismissed claim was likely considerably more valuable to the plaintiff, as it would have made the school liable for damages arising from the rape itself.   Doe v. Bibb County Sch. Dist., 2015 WL 403320 (M.D. Ga.  Jan. 28, 2015).