Seeking a Superior Institutional Liability Standard Under Title IX for Teacher-Student Sexual Harassment
Once a court finds that a teacher has sexually harassed a student, it must decide whether the school should bear liability for the teacher’s harassment. While most agree that the teacher should be held liable for his actions, many courts disagree as to the liability of the institution that employs the teacher. When should a school district be held accountable for a teacher’s misconduct? Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1971 “[u]nquestionably … place[s] on [educational institutions] the duty not to discriminate on the basis of sex.” Sex-based discrimination resulting from sexually harassing conduct by a teacher may manifest itself in various forms: For example, a teacher may make sexual comments, leer, or inappropriately touch a student; he may make offensive sexual advances toward a student; he may solicit or coerce sexual acts from a student by promising to grade the student highly if the student complies or by threatening to fail the student if she does not; and he may rape a student. Although Title IX allows a student to bring a claim against a school for such abusive misconduct by a teacher, no definitive legal standard for assessing liability currently exists. In addition, the standards that are applied today by most courts are inadequate: They fail to provide schools with sufficient incentives to create effective preventive and monitoring measures against harassment, and they fail to provide students who have been sexually harassed with appropriate relief under Title IX. A superior standard is needed.