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Running head: DOE V.

PETALUMA CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Jane Doe v. Petaluma City School District


MSG James V. Southern
Southern New Hampshire University
September 25, 2014

Author Note
This paper was prepared for EDU-610, Section 01024, taught by Mr. Ron Barnes

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.Jane Doe V. Petaluma City School District


949 F.Supp. 1415 (1996)
Jane Doe v. Petaluma City School District is but one of a series of cases that followed the
June 23, 1972 passage of Title IX legislation prohibiting gender based discrimination in federally
funded schools. This case established a precedence for victims of peer-to-peer sexual harassment
to sue for damages. Additionally, the case established that schools have a responsibility to
prevent the sexual harassment of students by not only their teachers but also their peers.
Facts of the Case
Beginning in the Fall of 1990, Jane Doe was sexually harassed by her peers for a period
of two years while attending a California Junior High School. The harassment began when two
boys made a comment that Jane Doe has a hotdog in her pants. Similar comments became
increasingly frequent toward Jane Doe from other students and included daily scribbling on the
bathroom walls, outbursts from students in her classes, and yelling out slurs in the hallways. Jane
Doe reported the incidents repeatedly to her counselor, Mr. Homrighouse, who failed to act on
the allegations. Mr. Homrighouse told Jane Doe that there was nothing that he could do to the
girls because it is not considered sexual harassment when one girl makes inappropriate
comments to another girl. As for the boys, Mr. Homrighouse said the boys will be boys and
that they would probably mature and stop the harassment eventually. Once the harassment
elevated to physical assault against Jane Doe, her parents spoke with Mr. Homrighouse and the
schools principal about their inaction. The principal stated that it was the first time that she had
heard about the problem. When asked why Mr. Horighouse had not informed anyone, to include
the schools Title IX officer, or had not explained Title IX grievance procedures to the family, he
stated that he did not think that it was important.

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Jane Does parents moved her to another public school where the same type of sexual
harassment continued. Eventually, Jane Doe was placed into a private all-girl school. Jane Does
parents claim that she was deprived of the right to public school education due to harassment
based on her gender. The parents argue that the school was made aware of the problem on
multiple occasions, but failed to take proper preventive measures. Additionally, her family was
forced to pay tuition for a private school because the public school system failed to provide a
safe environment for their child, violating her rights under Title IX.
Legal Questions
Jane Doe does not claim that Mr. Homrighouse sexually harassed her or that he intended
for her to be sexually harassed by her peers. Jane Doe claims that Mr. Homrighouse, the schools
counselor, was obligated under Title IX to protect her from sexual harassment by her peers.
Therefore, there are two questions before the court. First, was it clearly established under
Title IX that Homrighouse had a legal duty to do something about the peer harassment? (Doe v.
Petaluma City School District, 1996). And second, can a school be held financially liable for
damages under Title IX when it fails to prevent the sexual harassment of one student by another?
Legal History of the Case
This case was first filed in 1994, but there was never a ruling because the defendants won
a request for dismissal. The rationale for dismissal was accepted by the court because at the time
of the hearing, 1994, there had been no other ruling on peer-on-peer harassment. There was legal
precedence preventing sexual harassment of a student by a teacher, but Mr. Homrighouse was not
being accused of sexual harassment. At the time of the first hearing, no law existed establishing
that Mr. Homrighouse had an obligation to prevent peer-on-peer harassment. However, in the
two years between the first case and this one, the court had an opportunity to further analyze the

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application of Title IX rules by comparing it to Title VII rules that implied that school officials
have an obligation to prevent sexual harassment if it is reasonably known that the circumstances
exist. Thus, an appeal was accepted by the court based on a change of circumstances.
This case was followed by a 1999 Supreme Court ruling in Davis v. Monroe County
Board of Education (1999), stating that schools may be held liable under Title IX for one
students sexual harassment of another, but only when the school is "deliberately indifferent" to
"severe, pervasive and objectively offensive" harassment.
Ruling
In the final hearing, Zwibelman (1998) explains that Title IX provides, in relevant part:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be
denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or
activity receiving Federal financial assistance. (p. 16). This conclusion clearly constitutes a
permissible interpretation of Title IX. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of Jane Doe.
Rationale for the Ruling
Because Mr. Homrighous, by all reasonable accounts, should have known that he had an
obligation to take adequate steps to prevent the sexual harassment suffered by Jane Doe, he is not
eligible for qualified immunity under the current law. In Pelletier v. Federal Home Loan Bank,
968 F.2d 865, 870 (9th Cir.1992), the doctrine of qualified immunity was created to protect
good faith exercises of official discretion, not to shield willful or knowing lawless action taken
under color of official authority. (p. 3).

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Majority

The case was decided with a majority opinion with two dissenting opinions. It is
interesting to note that this case is still highly debated, with many states still opting not to
recognize a schools obligation to prevent student-on-student sexual harassment.
Implications
This was the first case to recognize that a school may be held liable, under Title IX rules,
for preventing to stop the sexual harassment of one student by another.

References

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Cheng, Edward S. (1997). Boys being boys and girls being girls: Student-to-student sexual harassment
from the courtroom to the classroom. UCLA Women's Law Journal, 7(2). uclalaw_wlj_17675.
Retrieved September 22, 2014, from: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/7m15q3nh
Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999)
Doe v. Petaluma City School District, 949 F.Supp. 1415 (1996).
Pelletier v. Federal Home Loan Bank, 968 F.2d 865, 870 (9th Cir.1992)
Zwibelman, M. A. (1998). Why title IX does not preclude section 1983 claims. The University of
Chicago Law Review, 65(4), 1465-1486. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from:
http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214802165?
accountid=3783