Supreme Court: Schools Liable for Sexual Harassment Among Students

The United States Supreme Court yesterday ruled that schools may be held liable for failing to protect students from the sexual harassment of another in certain circumstances, overturning several lower court rulings, which argued that Title IX did not apply to peer harassment. The vote was 5-4, with Justices Kennedy, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor authored the majority opinion, which stated that schools may be held liable for failing to protect a student from sexual harassment in certain circumstances. Schools would be held liable only in instances where school administrators have shown “deliberate indifference” and failed to take reasonable action to stop the harassment. In addition, the alleged harassment must be judged “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims the equal access to education” guaranteed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

“Consider, for example, a case in which male students physically threaten their female peers every day, successfully preventing the female students from using a particular school resource, an athletic field or a computer lab, for instance,” read the Court’s majority opinion. “District administrators are well aware of the daily ritual, yet they deliberately ignore requests for aid from the female students wishing to use the resource. The district’s knowing refusal to take any action in response to such behavior would fly in the face of Title IX’s core principles, and such deliberate indifference may appropriately be subject to claims for monetary damages.”

The case in question was brought before the Supreme Court by Aurelia Davis, mother of LaShonda Davis of Monroe County, Georgia. LaShonda has alleged that one of her classmates, known as G.F., repeated taunted her with sexual suggestions and unwanted sexual touching for months on end. Despite numerous complaints to several teachers and to her principal, LaShonda and her mother, Aurelia, both contend that G.F. was never punished.


New York Times - May 25, 1999

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