Tuesday, October 14, 2008

District Court Upholds Damages Award in Sexual Harassment Trial

Last August we blogged about a Title IX case against the Hilldale Independent School District in Oklahoma arising from the sexual abuse of the 14-year-old plaintiff by the band director. At that time, we noted that the case had survived the school district's motion for summary judgment and appeared to be headed for trial.

Since that post, the case did go trial. A jury agreed with the plaintiff that the school district did not respond reasonably to information it received that called the band director's conduct into question. It then awarded the plaintiff $150,000 in damages on her Title IX claim. The jury also awarded $150,000 on the plaintiff's claim that the school district subjected her to danger in violation of her constitutionally rights, another $150,000 on her claim that the school district's inaction impaired her constitutional right to bodily integrity (derivative of the right to liberty), and yet another $150,000 on a theory of negligent supervision under state law.

The school district then moved to dismiss or reduce the jury awards, arguing that the plaintiff received "duplicative recoveries by pleading alternative theories for the same relief." The court disagreed, reasoning that while each of the plaintiff's legal theories stems from the same set of fact, the harm alleged under each claim is distinct, and the jury was instructed to devise its award accordingly. Specifically, the court emphasized the the damages covered in the Title IX award is the lost educational benefits, which is different from the harm to plaintiff's personal security and bodily integrity that are protected by the Constitution.

The decision upholding the jury award is: J.M. v. Hilldale Indep. Sch. Dist., 2008 WL 4511872 (E.D. Okla. Oct. 3, 2008).