High Court Declines Sex-Harassment Cases Involving Teachers, Students

By Mark Walsh — January 07, 2013 2 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up two sexual-harassment cases involving teachers and students.

One case raised the question of whether a school district could be held liable for the alleged sexual harassment of a teacher by a student at her school. The second involved a suit seeking to hold a charter school liable for its handling of alleged sexual harassment of a student by a teacher.

The first case, Andersen v. Rochester City School District (No. 12-190), involves a music teacher in the New York state district who faced harassing phone calls and other behavior from a student who had allegedly burglarized her home and stolen her cell phone. The teacher, Tina M. Andersen, alleged that the school principal failed to adequately respond to her concerns about the continued presence of the student who allegedly broke into Andersen’s home and was continuing to harass her.

In a May 2012 decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, upheld a summary judgment for the school district. The appeals court ruled that the student’s alleged out-of-school conduct did not create a hostile work environment at the school that would subject the school district to liability under federal civil rights laws.

Andersen appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing there is a split among the federal courts of appeals about whether employers may made be held liable for sexual harassment of employees by third parties about which the employer knew or should have known.

The justices evidently gave the appeal some serious deliberation, requesting a response from the Rochester district. The district said the 2nd Circuit’s ruling was very fact-specific and would not make a good vehicle for resolving the purported circuit split.

On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court declined the teacher’s appeal without comment.

The justices also declined without comment to hear the appeal on behalf of a student in Doe v. Willits Charter School (No. 12-500). A student identified in court papers as Jane Doe allegedly had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a teacher at the Willits, Calif., charter school. When the relationship came to light, the girl’s parents sued the charter school and its principal under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in federally funded schools.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled in June 2012 that the family’s suit was unviable because the Does could not show that the school had been deliberately indifferent in its response to the relationship. The court noted that as soon as the charter school’s principal was told of the sexual relationship in early 2009, she reported it to state child-protection authorities and placed the teacher on administrative leave.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.