Victory! Update! On June 16, 2021, the Fourth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered it to hold a new trial. Citing NWLC’s amicus brief, the appellate court held that a school must always respond when it learns about an incident of possible sexual harassment. As the appellate court noted, “[a]ny other rule would lead to absurd results.” For instance, under the school board’s dangerous theory, schools could avoid complying with Title IX by arguing that they did not know with certainty that the conduct was sexual harassment. Moreover, schools would be perversely incentivized not to train their staff on how to recognize sexual harassment in order to avoid having to comply with Title IX.
On February 14, 2020, the National Women’s Law Center and law firm Sidley Austin LLP submitted an amicus brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board. The case was brought by a high school student against her school for failing to respond adequately when she was sexually assaulted on a school field trip. While the jury found that she was harassed and told responsible school officials, it nevertheless found the school not liable under Title IX based on deficient jury instructions. The brief argues that the District Court’s initial jury instructions and confusing clarifications gave jurors the misimpression that Title IX requires school officials to have knowledge that sexual harassment actually occurred, when in fact “actual notice” of alleged sexual harassment suffices. Nearly 30 allies, including organizations dedicated to civil rights, educational opportunities, and gender equality, signed the brief.