On December 15, 2021, the National Women’s Law Center joined an amicus brief led by the American Civil Liberties Union and Cooley LLP to the Eleventh Circuit in support of Jane Doe, a student who was suspended by her high school in Georgia after reporting that she was assaulted by a classmate. At age 16, Doe, who is biracial, was forced by a male student to engage in a sexual act at school. When she reported the incident, school officials refused to treat it as an assault and instead suspended her for purportedly violating the school’s policy on sexual misconduct and indecency. Doe, represented by Public Justice, sued the school district for sex discrimination and retaliation under Title IX, in addition to a failure-to-train constitutional claim. On September 1, 2021, the district court dismissed Jane Doe’s case and Doe appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit.
The amicus brief urges the Eleventh Circuit to reverse the lower court’s dismissal and allow Doe’s Title IX claims to continue forward. Punishing students for reporting sexual harassment and assault, the brief argues, undermines the purpose of Title IX and puts students at risk of further traumatization. And by chilling reporting of such incidents, unfair discipline leaves student survivors—particularly students of color—without protection or recourse. Amici implore the Fourth Circuit to make clear that, to protect students’ equal access to educational opportunities, Title IX requires schools to protect, not punish, student survivors like Jane Doe.