Schools liable under Title IX for peer-on-peer sexual harassment

A school may be liable under Title IX for unreasonably failing to protect a student from peer-on-peer sexual harassment which interferes with her ability to receive an education.

Excerpts from Davis v. Monroe County, 526 U.S. 629 (1999):

Petitioner’s minor daughter, LaShonda, was allegedly the victim of a prolonged pattern of sexual harassment by one of her fifth-grade classmates at Hubbard Elementary School, a public school in Monroe County, Georgia. According to petitioner’s complaint, the harassment began in December 1992, when the classmate, G. F., attempted to touch LaShonda’s breasts and genital area and made vulgar statements such as “`I want to get in bed with you’ ” and “`I want to feel your boobs.’ ” Complaint ¶ 7. Similar conduct allegedly occurred on or about January 4 and January 20, 1993. Ibid. LaShonda reported each of these incidents to her 634*634 mother and to her classroom teacher, Diane Fort. Ibid. Petitioner, in turn, also contacted Fort, who allegedly assured petitioner that the school principal, Bill Querry, had been informed of the incidents. Ibid. Petitioner contends that, notwithstanding these reports, no disciplinary action was taken against G. F.

The string of incidents finally ended in mid-May, when G. F. was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, sexual battery for his misconduct. Id., ¶ 14. The complaint alleges that LaShonda had suffered during the months of harassment, however; specifically, her previously high grades allegedly dropped as she became unable to concentrate on her studies, id., ¶ 15, and, in April 1993, her father discovered that she had written a suicide note, ibid.

We granted certiorari, 524 U. S. 980 (1998), in order to resolve a conflict in the Circuits over whether, and under what circumstances, a recipient of federal educational funds can be liable in a private damages action arising from student-onstudent sexual harassment.

We thus conclude that recipients of federal funding may be liable for “subject[ing]” their students 647*647 to discrimination where the recipient is deliberately indifferent to known acts of student-on-student sexual harassment and the harasser is under the school’s disciplinary authority.

[W]e conclude that the Eleventh Circuit erred in dismissing petitioner’s complaint. Petitioner alleges that her daughter was the victim of repeated acts of sexual harassment by G. F. over a 5-month period, and there are allegations in support of the conclusion that G. F.’s misconduct was severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive. The harassment was not only verbal; it included numerous acts of objectively offensive touching, and, indeed, G. F. ultimately pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct. Moreover, the complaint alleges that there were multiple victims who were sufficiently disturbed by G. F.’s misconduct to seek an audience with the school principal. 654*654 Further, petitioner contends that the harassment had a concrete, negative effect on her daughter’s ability to receive an education. The complaint also suggests that petitioner may be able to show both actual knowledge and deliberate indifference on the part of the Board, which made no effort whatsoever either to investigate or to put an end to the harassment.


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