Doe v. Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 19-50737, 2020 WL 3634519 (5th Cir. July 6, 2020)
07/21/2020This case involves a former high school student who was the victim of repeated incidents of sexual misconduct at the hands of two Edgewood Independent School District (“EISD”) employees. Both employees were criminally prosecuted for their misconduct, and Jane Doe filed this action against EISD for Title IX violations under a deliberate indifference theory, and §1983 substantive due process claims based on (1) failure to train school district employees regarding sexual harassment or abuse, (2) insufficient sexual harassment and child abuse policies, and (3) insufficient employee hiring policies and practices. Summary judgment was granted to EISD, Jane appealed, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.
To succeed on a Title IX deliberate indifference claim, Jane must show EISD had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment, and that the school was deliberately indifferent to the misconduct. Jane had been sexually harassed by Manuel Hernandez, a peace officer at EISD, as a freshman in 2012. The following year, Marcus Revilla, Jane’s chemistry teacher, also began sexually harassing her. Jane ultimately became pregnant with Revilla’s child in December 2013 or January 2014. Hernandez discovered this abuse but did nothing to report or stop it. Instead, he used this knowledge to coerce Jane into sexual acts with him too. Jane argued that Manuel Hernandez, a peace officer at EISD, qualified as an “appropriate person” to show EISD had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment. However, the Court held that Hernandez did not qualify as an “appropriate person” because he was not a supervisor. The power to enforce the law does not automatically make Hernandez Revilla’s supervisor. Instead, a supervisor is someone who can institute corrective action on behalf of EISD. The Court affirmed summary judgment because Jane failed to show that a district official with the power to take corrective action had actual knowledge of the harassment.
The Court also affirmed summary judgment on Jane’s §1983 claims. Section 1983 does not create liability for negligence or even gross negligence. Instead, Jane needed to show that EISD’s final policymaker acted with deliberate indifference in maintaining an unconstitutional policy that caused Jane’s injury. Here, EISD’s Board of Trustees was the final policymaker, and it had instituted policies that established objective hiring criteria. While Jane pointed to red flags in the hiring of Hernandez, including a prior arrest for “official oppression” of a minor he had arrested in 1983 as an officer of the San Antonio Police Department, she was unable to prove causation. Instead, the moving force behind Jane’s injury was Hernandez’s misconduct, not the hiring administrator’s choice to hire Hernandez without further investigation of his employment and criminal history. Jane’s other theories of §1983 liability similarly failed because Jane was unable to show EISD’s actions were anything more than the but-for cause of her injuries.