Update: June 26, 2023 – The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court decision dismissing the survivor student’s Title IX and other claims in A.P. v. Fayette County School District. We strongly disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the sexual assault our client A.P. described in her complaint—being forced by a classmate to perform oral sex—did not constitute “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” harassment, and thus did not invoke Title IX’s protections. In addition, the Court improperly credited the school district’s version of events over our client A.P.’s–even though factual disputes like this one should be decided by a jury, not by judges. We are proud of A.P. and her family’s courage in bringing this case forward and grateful for the work of the attorneys and amicus partners on this case. We also take this moment to highlight the amicus brief filed in this case by 20 mental health professionals and specialists with expertise in sexual violence, victim behaviors, and institutional betrayal, explaining the many ways that survivors’ behaviors around and after the time of an assault are not necessarily indicative of whether an assault occurred. This case also highlights the need for Congress to pass the Students’ Access to Freedom and Educational Rights (SAFER) Act, which would strengthen civil rights protections against harassment, and for the Biden administration’s Department of Education to swiftly finalize a strong Title IX rule followed by enforcement to protect survivors’ rights.
Update: On October 15, 2021, NWLC, along with co-counsel Mastando & Artrip LLP and the Georgetown Appellate Immersion Clinic, filed an appeal to the 11th Circuit asking the court to reverse a decision that dismissed a student survivor’s case. On October 22, 2021, a group of expert psychologists filed a motion seeking permission to submit an amicus brief in support of the student survivor, A.P., urging the court to revive this Title IX case, given that the defendants’ actions and the lower court’s reasoning were based on faulty and harmful stereotypes concerning survivors’ behavior. On May 11, 2022, the 11th Circuit accepted the mental health professionals and trauma experts’ amicus brief in support of A.P.’s appeal.  On January 26, 2022, our team filed its reply brief in the pending appeal, and we are now awaiting the hearing and the 11th Circuit decision.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), along with co-counsel Mastando & Artrip LLC and Penn Law LLC, filed a lawsuit against the Fayette County Board of Education, Superintendent Joseph Barrow, Jr. and other school officials. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of “A.P.,” a former Fayette County High School student, who was expelled after reporting that another student had sexually assaulted her on school grounds.

While doing an extra credit assignment after school in August 2017, a male student asked A.P. to meet him in the hallway. The two met and he demanded that she perform oral sex and physically prevented her from leaving until she did.

The next day, A.P. reported the assault to two guidance counselors, who elevated the matter to an assistant principal. Rather than connect A.P. with the Title IX coordinator or other educational supports, senior administrators immediately took disciplinary action against A.P. by confiscating her cell phone, placing her in in-school suspension, and then giving her a ten-day out-of-school suspension pending a disciplinary hearing. The school ultimately expelled her for “sexual impropriety,” and referred her to an alternative school for the entire 2017-18 school year.

The school district gave her no assurances that the assailant would not also be enrolled at the alternative school—further retaliating against her and showing deliberate indifference to the harassment she experienced. Her education and emotional well-being have suffered as a result of the Board and its officials’ violations of Title IX and the U.S. Constitution.

“Fayette County school officials retaliated against A.P. and deliberately pushed her out of school when she reported a sexual assault,” said Emily Martin, Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice at NWLC. “That effort to silence and punish her is not only morally reprehensible – it is illegal. Schools have a duty to make sure sexual assault doesn’t deprive the survivor of educational opportunities—and they also have a duty not to retaliate against those who report. Officials did the exact wrong thing here—derailing A.P.’s education and sending the message that those who speak up about sexual assault will be punished. A.P. and all students deserve better.”