Lipian v. Univ. of Mich., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62423 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 9, 2020)
04/21/2020In 2015, the University of Michigan (the “University”) hired renowned countertenor David Daniels to teach at the University’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance (“SMTD”). The University allegedly was aware of Daniels’s reputation as a serial philanderer, with Stephen West, the Chair of the Vocal Department, saying that “someone needs to be sure that [Daniels is] not going to be engaging with young students.” Andrew Lipian met Daniels when Daniels taught a master class at the University in 2012.
The two stayed in touch and Lipian applied to SMTD in part because Daniels, a renowned opera singer, would be teaching there. Lipian alleged that throughout his enrollment at the University, he was subjected to sexual harassment by Daniels. Lipian also alleged that one night, Daniels gave him Ambien while claiming it was Tylenol PM, and then proceeded to sexually assault him. The University moved for summary judgment. The Court granted the motion in part but denied it as to Lipian’s Title IX sexual harassment claim.
Lipian’s Title IX sexual harassment claim requires a showing that Lipian was subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment; Lipian provided actual notice of the situation to an appropriate person; and the University’s response amounted to deliberate indifference. The Court held that there was a material dispute of fact as to whether Lipian was subjected to a quid pro sexual harassment and a sexually hostile environment. Lipian argued that as well as being sexually assaulted by Daniels, he was pressured into sexualized situations and conversations. Lipian said that he would play along with Daniels’s sexualized banter because he was afraid that he would be blackballed by Daniels if he didn’t.
There was also a material dispute of fact as to whether the University had actual notice that Lipian was at risk of sexual harassment. At the time Daniels was hired, Stephen West was aware Daniels was inclined to pursue sexual encounters with students in violation of the University’s Standard Practice Guides (“SPG”). Additionally, the University’s Office of Institutional Equity (“OIE”) was aware that in March 2018 Daniels may have been offering to pay students for sex, in violation of both the University’s SPG and the Michigan Penal Code. Because West’s comments when Daniels was first hired predated the assault, the temporal requirements for actual notice were met. While the March 2018 allegations postdate the assault, Lipian was subjected to further sexual harassment after OIE became aware of these allegations, meaning this serves as an additional basis for actual notice regarding some of Lipian’s allegations.
Finally, a reasonable juror could find that the University’s response was deliberately indifferent. The evidence suggests that the University may have mishandled warnings that Daniels was a danger to its students. Despite the fact some staff members were concerned with Daniels’s probable interest in SMTD students before Daniels was hired, nobody took action to advise Daniels on appropriate standards for faculty-student relationships. The Court noted that this was unreasonable, particularly considering the fact Daniels would have considerable power over younger students, and there were powerful structural incentives for SMTD students, and even faculty, to turn a blind eye towards sexual harassment. Additionally, when OIE received an anonymous complaint that Daniels was soliciting sex for money, OIE’s response was to reach out to all the first-year students it believed might have been the complainant. When none of them responded with concerns about Daniels, OIE declined to pursue the case. The Court held that it was unreasonable for OIE to provide a mechanism for anonymous reports and then refuse to pursue a complaint when nobody comes forward and identifies themselves.
Lipian’s other claims were dismissed by the Court, but he was allowed to proceed to trial on his Title IX sexual harassment claim.