Teacher sexually harasses a student. Student sexually harasses a student. Same legal standard?

Before I dive into the details of the 6th Circuit’s recent Title IX decision, let’s make a few things clear. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in schools.  Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.  When a teacher sexually harasses a student, the school faces potential liability.  When a student sexually harasses a student, the school faces potential liability.

I’m confident that all Loyal Daily Dawg Readers understand all of that, but it bears repeating to put into context this recent decision.  The case arose when Jaycee Wamer, an undergraduate at the University of Toledo (UT) alleged that she had been sexually harassed by one of  UT’s instructors. She further alleged that UT prematurely dismissed her complaint without taking any action against the man.  This led her to change majors, avoid coming to campus, and switch to online classes to avoid her harasser.  She sued the university. 

The lower court dismissed her case because she did not allege that there was any additional harassment after she put the university on notice. In doing so, the lower court cited a 6th Circuit case that was about student-to-student harassment.  That was a mistake.  In this case the 6th Circuit held that the lower court goofed by applying to a teacher-on-student case the standards that apply to a student-to-student case.  

One reason the standards are different is because a case of sexual harassment under Title IX requires evidence that the harassment had an effect on the student’s education.  It’s designed to make sure that students are not excluded from or denied the benefits of education based on gender.  When students sexually harass other  students, it might have that effect. When a teacher harasses a student it almost certainly has that effect.  Key Quote:

When a teacher sexually harasses a student, it can more easily be presumed that the harassment would undermine and detract from the student’s educational experience because teachers are at the core of a student’s access to and experience of education. 

It’s Wamer v. University of Toledo, decided by the 6th Circuit on March 2, 2022. It’s published at 2022 WL 611537.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

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