Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education Brief
F.3d 1390, reversed and remanded
In this case, Plaintiff (P.) Davis, brought suit against the Defendant
(D.) the Monroe County Board of Education seeking damages for the sexual
harassment of her daughter, LaShonda by G.F., a fifth grade classmate.
LaShonda reported to her mother and teacher that G.F. made vulgar
comments and tried to touch her genital area and her breasts on repeated
occasions. The school principal was
made aware of the situation. G.F.
was not disciplined despite repeated complaints by LaShonda and others.
Finally, he was charged for the misconduct and plead guilty to sexual
BACKGROUND: The district court
dismissed P.’s complaint (Title IX Claim) in its entirety for failure to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted.
11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a claim for compensatory and
punitive damages against the school holding that Title IX does not provide
schools adequate notice that they are liable for sexual harassment of one
student by another. In light of the
Supreme Court’s decision in this case, the judgment of the district court was
revised and the case is remanded for further proceedings (March 23, 2000).
Can a school board be held liable for damages (compensatory and punitive)
under Title IX for its failure to prevent sexual harassment among students
(student to student harassment)?
BY THE PARTIES:
The plaintiffs argued the defendants deliberate indifference to G.F.’s
persistent sexual advances toward LaShonda created an intimidating, hostile,
offensive and abusive school environment that violated Title IX of the Education
Amendments of 1972, which prohibits a student from being “excluded from
participation in, being denied the benefits of or being subjected to
discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal
They argued to dismiss the motion based on the
O’Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens,
Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting
opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined.
The U.S Supreme Court agreed with the Eleventh Circuit’s conclusion
that Title IX does not provide schools notice of liability concerning the
actions of others. However, a
school’s “deliberate indifference” to “known acts of harassment” is
itself misconduct prohibited by Title IX which can cause a private damage action
by the plaintiff. A school’s
misconduct causes the plaintiff to be subject to discrimination when the school
exercises “substantial control over the harasser” and the context in which
the known harassment occurs” (i.e. “during school hours and on school
grounds, etc.). The misconduct must
be “sexual harassment of students that is so severe, pervasive and objectively
offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victim’s educational
experience, that the student is effectively denied equal access to an
institution’s resources and opportunities.”
Whether a school’s response to student-to-student actions rises to the
level of misconduct prohibited by Title IX is to be judged by the total
circumstances. This conduct goes
beyond “simple acts of teasing and name calling among school children,” and
likely will require more than “one instance of peer-on-peer harassment.”
(Kennedy) Schools cannot be
held liable for peer sexual harassment because Title IX does not give them clear
and unambiguous notice that they are liable in damages for failure to remedy
discrimination by their students. As
the majority acknowledges, Title IX prohibits only misconduct by grant
recipients, not misconduct by third parties.
In any event, a plaintiff
cannot establish a Title IX violation merely by showing that she has been
“subjected to discrimination.” Rather,
a violation of Title IX occurs only if she is “subjected to discrimination
under any education program or activity (a), where “program or activity” is
defined as “all of the operations of” a grant recipient.
the most grave, and surely the most lasting, disservice of today’s decision is
that it ensures the Court’s own disregard for the federal balance soon will be
imparted to our youngest citizens. The
Court clears the way for the federal government to claim center stage in
OPINION: I found this case to be
interesting from various angles – first as an educator and as an employee of
the Illinois State Board of Education who also happens to serve on the Gender
Equity Team which deals with Title IX. I
also spoke to a friend of mine who is a School Psychologist and got her opinion
on “peer to peer/student to student harassment.”
She told me about several programs that teach students to avoid sexually
harassing conduct and to identify and report harassment when it does occur.
Also, what are the psychological implications that students may suffer as
a result of these situations? Also,
what about the First Amendment’s protection of free speech that could be
implemented in schools to address Title IX concerns?
If the Monroe County Board of Education is liable – is the state also
liable since it is their job to insure that Title IX policies are implemented?
Where does the BUCK STOP? I
hate to be ISBE Police – I don’t believe that’s my job.
also thought that Kennedy’s final thoughts in his dissent said a lot about our
educational system today – “As its holding makes painfully clear, the
majority’s watered-down version of the Spending Clause clear-statement rule is
no substitute for the real protections of state and local autonomy that our
constitutional system requires. If
there be any doubt of the futility of the Court’s attempt to hedge its holding
about with words of limitation for future cases, the result in this case
provides the answer. The complaint
of this fifth grader survives and the school will be compelled to answer in
federal court. We can be assured
that like suits will follow–suits, which in cost and number, will impose
serious financial burdens on local school districts, the taxpayers who support
them, and the children they serve. Federalism
and our struggling school systems deserve better from this Court.
Last updated on January 24, 2002