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Court Revives Title IX Peer-Harassment Case Against District

A federal appeals court today revived a Title IX lawsuit alleging that administrators of a Michigan school district were deliberately indifferent to a years-long pattern of sexual harassment against a male student by his peers.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled 2-1 to restore the suit against the Hudson, Mich., area school district and Superintendent Kathy Malnar, overturning a summary judgment in their favor by a federal district court.

The majority in Patterson v. Hudson Area Schools said a jury should be given the chance to decide whether the district's response to the pattern of harassment, which mostly involved verbal reprimands of the harassers, was deliberately indifferent and thus could make the district liable under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools.

"Given that Hudson knew that its methods were ineffective, but did not change those methods, a reasonable jury certainly could conclude that at some point during the period of harassment, the school district’s standard and ineffective response to the known harassment became clearly unreasonable,” the majority opinion says.

The lawsuit contends that beginning in the 7th grade, a boy identified as DP was called "queer," "fag," "pig" and other names by some of his fellow students. The boy's locker and school papers were defaced. School officials would reprimand the harassers, only to have other students continue to torment DP, the family's lawsuit said.

The harassment culminated in high school, when DP was assaulted by another male student, who rubbed his sexual organs against DP in a locker room. That student was expelled and later pleaded guilty to a criminal charge.

The dissenting judge on the 6th Circuit panel said schools cannot be liable under Title IX for failing to be "purged of all offensive behavior and be completely harassment free."

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