School of Education: Legal Seminar Videos

Sexual Harrassment: Court Case


Court Case

Dr. Erma Jean Sims,
Sonoma State University

We're going to take a look now at a fairly recent court case. Of course I've changed the names in our little scenario, but the scenario is based in part on a Supreme Court case and it is the supreme court of the land. It's based on a 1999 Supreme Court case: Davis as a friend of LaShonda D, which shows you that, a person, if LaShonda as a minor certainly is incapable or would have considerable difficulty filing the lawsuit herself. If the parents don't feel comfortable, but do feel violated they may not file the lawsuit. So in this instance we have a friend of this family who is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of LaShonda. So it's LaShonda D. vs. Monroe County Board of Education et al., we don't want to leave anybody out. So we just attach et al to the end of the lawsuit so that we can have a wide net. Interestingly enough the law says that institutions covered by Title IX may be financially liable for sexual harassment of a student by another students if; let's take a look at the test that is the legal tests for whether or not we can hold the school district liable. A school official has to been aware of the misconduct. Not only be aware but then show deliberate indifference or fail to take any proper or remedial action. Many times a school administrator will receive this information and simply saying to you as a teacher, I'm glad you shared this with me, could you get back to me if you see any other incidents. The court may and often times and usually does interpret that as indifference. In this incident LaShonda made several attempts, several conversations with the principal, and several conversations with the classroom teacher and everybody seemed to think it was going to go away. We do know that just by pretending something doesn't exist; doesn't solve the problem. So we have this court case where we have an official who is aware of the misconduct and then show some indifference to taking any action against it. The other tests that the court set out in this case are that the victim must demonstrate that the harassment was so severe and pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denied the victim access to education opportunities or benefits provided by the school. Now looking at this is a fairly detailed test. The harassment has to be so severe. It almost sounds like the court is protecting the school district to some extent because you need to have several incidence to build a case that would substantiate the harassment was severe and pervasive. Meaning its ongoing and that it affected the student's ability to take advantage of the educational opportunity provided by the school. So in this case we have that, we had a lot of indifference, we had teachers who didn't take action and we also had a pervasive situation, and we do know what the test is for school districts. So school districts will know that they can be held liable and these lawsuits which usually go for several millions of dollars. It's your responsibility to protect yourself, your responsibility to protect your students and as an employee of the district, it's your responsibility to protect your district from civil liability, which could range in the millions of dollars. We do know that school districts have on retainer attorneys who are available to site administrators and teachers and school personnel to discuss possible liability. And so if you're finding that you're not getting any cooperation from your site supervisor you may want to contact the attorneys or the legal firm that is on retainer to that particular school district. Share the facts of the case with that attorney and get them to give you some advice.

CREDITS: Instruction and Content by Dr. Erma Jean Sims, Sonoma State University. Videography and Technical support by Mark Niemann, Sonoma State University