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Law School Case Brief

Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist. - 524 U.S. 274, 118 S. Ct. 1989 (1998)

Rule:

It would frustrate the purposes of Title IX, 20 U.S.C.S. § 1681(a), to permit a damages recovery against a school district for a teacher's sexual harassment of a student based on principles of respondeat superior or constructive notice without actual notice to a school district official. 

Facts:

In the spring of 1991, when petitioner A.S.G. was an eighth-grade student at a middle school in respondent Lago Vista Independent School District ("District"), she had a sexual relationship with a teacher at one of the District's high schools. She did not report the relationship to school officials. After the couple was discovered having sex and the teacher was arrested, the District terminated his employment. During this time, the District had not distributed an official grievance procedure for lodging sexual harassment complaints or a formal antiharassment policy, as required by federal regulations. In 1993, A.S.G and her mother, petitioner Alida Jean Mccullough, filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the District raising, among other things, a claim for damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which provided, in 20 U.S.C.S. § 1681(a), that a person could not be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. The district court granted the District's motion for summary judgment. In affirming, the court of appeals held that school districts were not liable under Title IX for teacher-student sexual harassment unless an employee with supervisory power over the offending employee actually knew of the abuse, had the power to end it, and failed to do so. The appellate court concluded that petitioners could not satisfy that standard. Petitioners were granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Could A.S.G. recover from the District under Title IX for sexual harassment by one of the District's teachers?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appellate court's judgment. The Court ruled that in a case such as the instant case, damages could not be recovered unless an official of the school district who, at a minimum, had authority to institute corrective measures on the district's behalf had actual notice of, and was deliberately indifferent to, the teacher's misconduct. A.S.G. could not recover damages under Title IX because: (1) the only information about the teacher's misconduct that the school principal allegedly had was plainly insufficient to alert the principal to the possibility that the teacher was involved in a sexual relationship with A.S.G., and; (2) he District's alleged failure to fulfill a federal regulatory requirement to promulgate and publicize an effective policy and grievance procedure for sexual harassment claims did not establish the requisite actual notice and deliberate indifference on the part of the District, and, regardless, any such failure did not itself constitute sex discrimination under Title IX.

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