The latest Jane Doe case begins with this:
When a high school teacher and a student have a sexual relationship, it is the stuff of nightmares for school districts, principals, and, of course, parents.
Jane Doe had that kind of relationship with Robert Milton, an art teacher in Katy ISD. When the nature of the relationship came to light, after Ms. Doe had graduated, Mr. Milton resigned. Later he plead guilty to the criminal charge of having an improper relationship with a student.
That’s not enough to make the Katy ISD legally responsible for what happened. In her suit against the district, Jane has to produce evidence showing that a supervisory employee knew what was going on, or, that the supervisor had actual knowledge of a “substantial risk” of such behavior. It was clear from the record that no one in the district knew about Jane and Mr. Milton, so Jane had to convince the court that there were earlier incidents involving other students that put the district on notice that Mr. Milton posed a “substantial risk.” Moreover, Jane had to show that someone who supervised Mr. Milton had actual knowledge of that level of risk.
So the focus was on the principal. Actually, it was on another principal from 14 years earlier. Jane Doe and Mr. Milton began a sexual relationship in April, 2015. But there was another student who may have had a sexual relationship with Mr. Milton in 2001. That girl lived with her uncle that year, and the uncle came forward in Jane Doe’s case with important testimony. He claimed that way back in 2001 he came across some “love letters” from the teacher to his niece, and that he told the Mayde Creek principal that he suspected an “inappropriate sexual relationship.” The principal testified that he had no memory of such a report.
There you have a “fact issue.” You have one person testifying that he put the principal on notice of something that would require investigation, and the principal denying it. When you have a dispute over an important fact issue, the court is not going to toss the case out. It’s going to allow it to proceed so that the facts can be more fully developed. That way the court can come to a conclusion as to what exactly happened in 2001 and what bearing it has on what happened in 2015. That’s what the court did here. It refused to dismiss the case.
The district is whittling away at this case. It began with a suit against the district, several KISD employees and Mr. Milton. All that remains is the suit against the district. Moreover, the court in this opinion tossed out the claim for punitive damages, noting that such a remedy is not available under Title IX.
The district may very well prevail. Jane Doe still bears a heavy burden of proof. She not only has to prove that a supervisory employee, such as the principal, had actual knowledge of a “substantial risk” of inappropriate behavior by this teacher—she also has to show that the district responded with “deliberate indifference.”
One other point is worth making here. Jane Doe was 18-years old when all this began. Her sexual relationship with the teacher began in April, 2015, and she graduated that spring—probably about six weeks later. The relationship continued over the summer and the next school year when Ms. Doe was in college. She broke it off in the summer of 2016 and told her mother about it.
So take note: this stuff happened when she was under the control and supervision of the school district for only about six weeks, and she was legally an adult the whole time.
It’s still the stuff of nightmares. And lawsuits.
The case is Doe v. Katy ISD. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas tossed out the claim for punitive damages, but allowed the case to proceed against the district on December 13, 2019. We found the case at 2019 WL 5191011.
DAWG BONE: THE “STUFF OF NIGHTMARES” CAN REACH BACK 14 YEARS TO A PREVIOUS PRINCIPAL.
Tomorrow: Ms. Bailey, the art teacher, is getting married to a woman.