SCOTUS Declines to Hear a Significant Title IX Liability Case on Causation

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear Doe v. Fairfax County School Board, after Fairfax had asked the Court to review the case in December 2021. Originally filed in 2018, Doe states that she was sexually assaulted by a male student during a high school band trip in 2017. Doe further states that she did not report the incident to staff while on the trip because she was traumatized. However, Doe subsequently told her friends what happened, and the incident was reported to school employees, including the band director. Doe alleges that the school board “failed to properly investigate the incident” because Fairfax did not notify Doe’s parents at the beginning of the investigation or explain her rights under Title IX. Furthermore, Doe states that the school’s deliberate indifference caused her “emotional, academic, and physical harm.”

In response, Fairfax argued that the encounter “was not sexual assault” and that the school took several appropriate steps to address the incident.  At the initial trial in 2019, a jury found that Doe had been sexually harassed and that she was “deprived” access to her education. But the jury decided that the school was not liable under Title IX because they determined that the school did not have “actual knowledge” of what happened on the trip. After this verdict, Doe appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the evidence strongly supported imposing liability. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial.

Last year, Fairfax asked SCOTUS to intervene in the case, but their petition was recently denied, and Doe’s new trial will proceed. According to Doe’s lawyer, Doe is “ready for a new trial and is confident that she will prevail.” In an interview with the Washington Post, Doe’s legal team expressed skepticism on whether Fairfax will want to “risk a loss” and “force a young survivor” to relive her trauma. In its statement, Fairfax was critical of SCOTUS’ decision and said the Court was leaving an “important legal question unsettled” regarding “whether schools can be sued in private lawsuits under Title IX when it is undisputed that their actions have not led to any harassment.”

For an additional discussion about the causation aspects of this case, see also the previous ICS blog:

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