On January 31, 2024, NWLC submitted an amicus to the Michigan Supreme Court in Doe v. Alpena Public School District in support of Jane Doe, who was in fourth grade when she was sexually assaulted by a classmate. Her school did not take sufficient action to keep her safe, and she ultimately transferred to a private school.

Jane sued her school under Michigan’s main antidiscrimination statute, but a state trial court dismissed her claim, holding that the state law did not recognize claims for student-on-student harassment. A state appellate court disagreed on this point but affirmed the dismissal on other grounds. The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether Michigan’s primary antidiscrimination law recognizes claims for student-on-student harassment and, if so, what that litigation standard should be. For decades, Michigan courts have already applied a litigation standard for workplace harassment cases brought under the same state law, and Jane Doe is asking the Court to apply that same standard to education cases too. However, the school district has asked for a different standard be applied in Michigan’s education student-on-student harassment cases—namely, the federal Title IX litigation standard, which NWLC and our partners have long criticized for being overly stringent against student victims.

NWLC’s brief explains that student-on-student harassment is highly prevalent, but too often, victims are ignored or punished by their schools instead of being supported. We share examples of how the Title IX litigation standard has foreclosed countless student victims of sex, race, and disability harassment from relief in the federal courts and ask the Court not to import this harsh standard to the Michigan courts. Instead, we support Jane Doe’s request to extend Michigan’s workplace harassment litigation standard to student-on-student harassment claims. After all, Jane’s proposed standard is already the majority rule in the education statutes of U.S. states and territories across the nation. It is also similar to the administrative enforcement standard that was applied by the U.S. Department of Education to sex, race, and disability harassment for nearly 30 years—a standard that will be imminently restored in the forthcoming changes to the Title IX regulations as well. Furthermore, Congress has recognized the profound limitations of the Title IX litigation standard and is considering a bill (that NWLC helped draft) to amend federal civil rights laws to adopt a standard similar to Jane’s proposal.