1st Circuit reinstates Title IX hostile environment lawsuits – Rhode Island Lawyer Weekly



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The mother of a straight charter school student who claimed her son suffered years of homophobic harassment from classmates says school officials had actual knowledge of the harsh environment. Nevertheless, you are entitled to a jury trial on your Title IX claim for failing to take reasonable steps to address it. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the summary judgment.

Plaintiff Natasha Grace filed a Title IX complaint alleging that her underage son “MG” was harassed by classmates over the three years he attended Brooke Charter School East Boston. . According to the plaintiff, MG’s son was exposed to ridicule and abuse from classmates who spread unsubstantiated rumors that he was gay or transsexual, even though he is straight.

Judge George A. O’Toole of the U.S. District Court in Boston granted the school’s motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs could reasonably seek to prove school officials had actual knowledge of the abuse or deliberate indifference. It concluded that it could not be proven that there was a failure to respond. Regarding Title IX hostile environment claims.

Circuit Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi wrote to a unanimous panel that based on a complaint reported to the school’s dean of students, Yasenia Dudley, as of December 7, 2017, the plaintiff was accused of harassment. concluded that a reasonable jury could conclude that he had demonstrated actual knowledge of the matter. , John Clark, co-director of the Charter School Network.

Additionally, the Commission found that plaintiff’s claims raised questions for the jury as to whether school officials’ response to the harassment allegations amounted to deliberate indifference.

“Here, Grace does not allege that the school’s actions designed to thwart the harassment allegations proved ineffective, nor that it could have done more to respond to the harassment allegations.” , alleges that school officials took no substantive steps to protect MG from the hostile environment in which he was subjected,” Gelpi wrote.

The 30-page decision is Grace et al. v. Board of Directors, Brooke East Boston et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 01-204-23. The full text of the judgment can be found here.

Is your response insufficient?

Stephen M. Richard
Stephen M. Richard

Providence attorney Stephen M. Richard represented the successful defendant in the 1999 case. Wills vs. Brown, one of the First Circuit’s seminal decisions regarding sexual harassment in a hostile environment under Title IX.panel of grace quoted will Regarding the question of whether Brooke East Boston can be considered to have been intentionally indifferent to the harassment allegations against MG.

“The First Circuit often quotes: will In response to the argument that schools have a duty to assess and address the effectiveness of countermeasures. [to a complaint of harassment]” said Richard. “Countermeasures are not just static actions. You need to consider whether they are working and whether they need to be changed to account for changing circumstances.”

teachings of will pointed out a fundamental problem in the defense of Grace, Richard said.

“The bullying and harassment of students had been going on for a relatively long period of time,” he explained. “Based on my reading of the record, it appears that the First Circuit felt there were substantial questions as to its effectiveness and continued oversight.” [Brooke East Boston’s] counter-measure. ”

The panel reached the correct result gracesaid Naomi R. Schatz, a student rights and Title IX litigator in Boston.

“Like any type of harassment claim, this is incredibly fact-specific and therefore not really appropriate as a summary judgment vehicle,” Schatz said. “As in any employment discrimination case, the jury must hear the facts and decide whether the conduct was serious enough to constitute harassment. Was the school’s response reasonable?”

Mr. Schatz appreciated that the First Circuit recognized that schools could face Title IX liability even if they took a limited response to reported harassment.

Countermeasures are not just static actions. You should consider whether they are working and whether they need to be changed as circumstances change.
— Stephen M. Richard, Providence

“The law regarding the willful indifference standard makes it very clear that if a school tries something and fails to stop the harassment, the school is not innocent,” Schatz said. “If they know what they’re doing isn’t working, they have to do more.”

Michael A. Contant, a Woburn, Mass., attorney who represents students accused of sexual misconduct and harassment in Title IX cases, said the plaintiffs: grace In fact, a jury should hear her case.

“It seems to me that there was enough evidence to support that [the plaintiff’s Title IX claim]” Contant said. “This was a form of discrimination based on:” [MG’s] Perceived sexual orientation. Putting the facts together, [the harassment] The entire school came to think he was gay or transgender. After all, schools should have done more to protect children. ”

attorney for the parties grace No one could be reached for comment before deadline.

homophobic harassment

According to court records, the harassment the plaintiff alleges occurred between 2015 and 2018, when her son attended fourth, fifth, and sixth grades at Brooke East Boston, a kindergarten through eighth-grade charter school.

At the beginning of his fourth year, school officials received a complaint from the plaintiff that his classmate, MV, pushed his MG twice and tripped his son once. MV said he was disciplined twice for his actions, but otherwise the school did not treat the situation as a violation of the school’s bullying policy, but rather as involving a “peer conflict.” It was assumed that there was.

MG further claimed that throughout his senior year, MV called him names such as “bitch,” “girl,” and “gay.” However, there was no evidence that school officials were notified of the defamation.

In fifth grade, one of the students on the school bus allegedly told the bus monitor, in the presence of MG, that “the whole school thinks so.” [MG] It was loud and gay. ” At the time, a bus guard reportedly advised MG, “Be careful of his flashy hands.”

Grace v. Board of Directors, Brooke East Boston

The mother of a straight charter school student who claimed her son suffered years of homophobic harassment from classmates says school officials had actual knowledge of the harsh environment. Am I entitled to a jury trial on a Title IX claim that nevertheless failed to take reasonable steps to address it?

Yes (1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)

Romanas C. Maduavchi of KeyPoint Law Group in North Andover, Massachusetts; She Esthena Barlow (Plaintiff), Georgetown Court of Appeals, Immersion Clinic, Washington, DC

John J. Cloherty III (defense) of Boston, Pierce, Davis & Peritano;

The day after the bus incident, MG reportedly complained to Dean Dudley that students were calling him “gay” and “transgender.” Mr. MG visited his homeroom teacher (identified as Ms. Nissan) and reiterated his complaint about the slur, and he told her that he was not gay and did not want to be transgender.

MG claimed that when he returned to his desk after recess, Nissan had placed the novel “Graceful Grayson” on his desk. This book is about a fictional transgender child. MG claimed that other students likely saw the book, resulting in an increase in harassment incidents.

According to the plaintiff, her son reported the episode in the book to Dean Dudley, but no investigation was done into the matter. The plaintiff alleged that there were several other incidents of pushing and punching involving MG and MV, one of which caused her to file a police report.

Later, before MG entered the 6th grade, at a summer camp he attended unrelated to school, a female student from Brook East Boston who was participating in the camp told other campers that she was gay. He claimed to have told him that.

According to the plaintiff, MG began experiencing behavioral problems in sixth grade, which resulted in further conflicts with students and teachers. After one incident, MG claimed that her new teacher threw a bunch of post-it notes at her face.

The plaintiff hired a lawyer to file a demand letter demanding that the school implement a plan of action to end the alleged bullying of her son. The school issued a trespassing order against the plaintiff, accusing him of causing a nuisance when he showed up at the school to make a complaint.

Plaintiff then removed her son from the school and filed suit in state court for violations of Title IX, her son’s equal protection rights, and related state law claims. After the school transferred the case to federal court and filed a motion for summary judgment, a magistrate judge recommended dismissal of all claims except the plaintiff’s Title IX complaint.

In 2022, U.S. District Judge O’Toole granted the school’s motion for summary judgment on all claims. Regarding the Title IX claims, O’Toole concluded that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a genuine factual issue as to whether the school exhibited intentional indifference to the harassment allegations against MG.

deliberate indifference

In response to the plaintiffs’ appeal, Mr. Gelpi wrote that Title IX’s standard of intentional indifference involves application of a two-pronged test. First, the defendant must have had actual knowledge of the harassment. Second, the defendant’s response to the harassment “must amount to deliberate indifference to the discrimination.”

Mr. Gelpi found that the lower court erred in granting summary judgment, and that a reasonable jury could conclude that the school had actual knowledge of the harassment allegedly suffered by MG. I wrote.

“Records show that on December 7, 2016, Dean Dudley became aware that some students were discriminating against MG because of the bus incident because they thought he was gay…” Gelpi wrote. “On December 8, 2016, MG personally reported to Dudley that students were calling him ‘gay’ and ‘transgender.’ Dudley also [co-director] Mr. Clark actually knew that MG had left a book about transgender children on his desk after reporting the same thing to Nissan. In particular, Clark knew that the Graceful Grayson incident had angered MG, and that Grace was unhappy with the principal. [Molly] Cole’s reaction to Nissan’s actions. ”

Gelpi also found that the record supports the inference that the school’s response to the harassment allegations was “manifestly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.”

First, Mr. Gelpi alleges that from December 2016 to February 2018, Brooke East Boston school officials took no corrective or remedial action against students who used homophobic epithets toward MG. He pointed out the evidence.

Second, the judge noted evidence that the day after the bus incident, MG himself reported to the dean that he had been teased by students about being gay and transgender.

“However, despite Ms. Dudley’s advance notice of the students’ treatment of MG due to the bus incident, there is no evidence that she investigated the defamation incident and took steps to protect MG from it. There is no evidence that this is the case,” Gelpi wrote.

“Grace also said the school showed deliberate indifference by repeatedly characterizing MV’s treatment of MG as ‘peer rivalry’ rather than bullying, given MV’s continued aggressive behavior towards MG.” “We presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that,” Gelpi said.

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