Friday, June 13, 2008

Kansas School District Avoids Liability for Athletes' Harassment Due to Lack of Notice

A case that raised an interesting question about a school's liability under Title IX for students' sexual abuse in an extracurricular program run by non-employee was instead resolved in the school's favor on other grounds this week.

For many years, male student-athletes in the Liberal, Kansas, public schools availed themselves of an extracurricular weight training programs run by John Aubrey. Aubrey's program ran out of his home, though he was given access to school facilities for the purpose of conducting weigh-ins. Students allege that Aubrey abused them in various ways, including questionably massages, "sex talks," instructing one student to practice putting on a condom, encouraging students to masturbate, and having boys watch sex videos. Three students, including the one who initially reported Aubrey's conduct, filed suit against both Aubrey and the Liberal School District, claiming among other things that the school district is liable under Title IX for its deliberate indiffernce to the sexual abuse that was taking place under the auspices of a school-sanctioned program. But the court did not reach the interesting question of whether a schools' liability under Title IX even potentially applies a weight training program that is not run by a school employee, but that is apparently endorsed by the school and which provides school access for at least some part of the program. Rather, the district court granted the school district's motion for summary judgment on this issue because of the absence of evidence that the school knew about Aubrey's misconduct while it was ongoing. Once the student reported it, Aubrey's weight training program was curtailed and no further abuse occurred.

A related claim Title IX claim, however, did survive the district's summary judgment motion. The student who reported Aubrey's misconduct suffered ongoing harassment at the hands of his peers as a result, to which he alleged the district failed to adequately respond. The court agreed with the plaintiff that this claim is viable, since the facts alleged would, if proven, satisfy the standard of liability under Title IX.

Moreover, the court denied the school district's efforts to dispose of the plaintiffs' claims under state law that the district is vicariously liable for Aubrey's tortious conduct and that the district itself was negligent in its supervision and "hiring" of Mr. Aubrey. Those claims will, barring settlement, proceed to trial.

Decision is: C.T. v. Liberal School District, 2008 WL 2358667 (D. Kan. June 10, 2008).