Supreme Court to Hear School Sexual Harassment Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a school sexual harassment case tomorrow that will determine whether schools can be held liable for student-to-student sexual harassment under Title IX, a law which prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of sex. The Court previously held that schools are liable for sexual harassment committed by teachers.

Ten-year-old LaShonda Davis, who is now 16, charged that a male classmate repeatedly grabbed her breasts and crotch area, simulated raping her and threatened her with rape several different times. Davis complained to her teacher and her Macon County, Georgia school’s principal several times, but no action was taken to punish the boy who abused her, and she was forced to continue sitting next to him in class.

Davis filed a criminal complaint against the boy and he plead guilty to sexual battery. Given his juvenile status, the boy’s sentence was not been publicly disclosed.

The National Women’s Law Center represents Davis in the suit, which was filed to punish the school for ignoring Davis’ pleas for help. NWLC co-president Marcia Greenberg commented on the impact the case could have on girls. She believes that if her client does not prevail in the case, the decision would “give schools a green light to ignore sexual harassment, no matter how severe.”

Counsel for the school counter that, because Title IX lacks specific language about sexual harassment, the school cannot be held liable for student-to-student sexual harassment, noting that the Department of Education’s guidelines on sexual harassment were not made available to schools until 1996.

Similar arguments were made women first attempted to sue their employers under Title VII, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace. Despite objections that Title VII did not include specific references to sexual harassment among co-workers, the Supreme Court ruled that employers were responsible for employees who sexually harass their peers and that employees may sue employers under Title VII.

The plaintiff’s mother, Aurelia Davis, has pledged to support her daughter in any way that she can. “I never wanted her to say that she went to everyone — her teachers, her principal and her parents — and they never did anything,” said Ms. Davis.


AP - January 10, 1999

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