61 Fla. L. Rev. 355 (2009) | | | |
INTRODUCTION :: In 1992, a fifth-grade girl complained to her public school teacher that the boy sitting next to her repeatedly rubbed his body against her and made sexually explicit comments to her. After school authorities ignored her repeated complaints, the student filed suit against the school board. The United States Supreme Court held that a private cause of action under Title IX existed against the school board for student-on-student harassment.
In 1993, a ninth-grade female student had sex with her public school social studies teacher over a period of six months. Once police discovered the relationship, the teacher was fired, his teaching certificate was revoked, and the student and her mother filed suit against the school district. Had a school supervisor known of the harassment and been deliberately indifferent to it, the school district would have been liable for the teacher-on-student harassment.
In 2000, a female public school teacher resigned from her job after a male student sexually harassed her for two months. The teacher reported the harassment to school administrators, but when they failed to stop the harassment, the teacher sued the Department of Education. The court allowed a cause of action under Title VII for student-on-teacher harassment.
Although sexual harassment occurs in all workplaces, courts have been slower to recognize its impact in schools. Beginning in the early 1990s, federal courts progressively recognized the need for protection of students and school employees from sexual harassment. Courts have acted extensively against student-on-student harassment and teacher-on-student harassment. However, victims of student-on-teacher harassment have not been so fortunate. Judges have been reluctant to extend to teachers legal protections, which were originally designed to protect students. Such hesitation shows that courts have not caught on to how the power dynamics in the classroom have changed. Once, students were always the victims of harassment. Today, teachers are as often the prey of students who can belittle and degrade them without legal consequence.
This Note argues that teachers who are victims of sexual harassment by their students should be afforded the same federal protections under Title VII as students who are the victims of sexual harassment. Part II discusses the protections of federal laws that have been extended to victims of student-on-student and teacher-on- student sexual harassment. Part II also explains how Title IX fails to adequately provide relief to teachers as victims of student-on-teacher harassment. Part III discusses the application of Title VII to teachers as victims of sexual harassment in a hostile work environment and details the limited success of teachers who have sought remedy under Title VII. Part III also discusses the potential for a relaxed standard for special-education students as perpetrators of sexual harassment. Finally, Part IV concludes that holding public schools accountable for hostile environment sexual harassment under Title VII will give teachers the protection they need and deserve as victims of sexual discrimination.