Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of Band Director Harassment Case

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently affirmed the district court's decision to grant summary judgment to the Hamilton Southeastern (Indiana) School Corp. in a sexual harassment case. Parents of a former student had sued the school district to recover damages under Title IX for a sexual relationship that their daughter had with an assistant band director, Dmitri Alano.

The issue of notice proved fatal to the plaintiffs' case. Their daughter concealed the relationship while it was happening and for two years thereafter. When school officials finally did learn of Alano's sexual misconduct, they immediately suspended him. Alano resigned while the district's investigation was pending. The plaintiffs argued that the district should have known that Alano posed a risk to his students, because it was "common knowledge" that he is married to a former student. But, the court reasoned, "[s]imply knowing that a teacher married a woman formerly his student, without actual knowledge of misconduct, does not suffice to hold a school district liable under Title IX."

I agree that it's probably a stretch to say that a teacher's marriage to former student without more puts a district on notice of that teacher's sexual misconduct with current students. But this case definitely illustrates an unfortunate absence of remedy for sexual relations that a student victim chooses to conceal -- which is what probably happens most of the time.

Decision is: Hansen v. Board of Trustees of Hamilton Southeastern School Corp., 2008 WL 5336904 (7th Cir., Dec. 23, 2008).