Can a student sue for sexual harassment at school?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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It is possible for a student to sue a school official for sexual harassment. Title IX and Section 183, two federal statutes, protect students against sexual harassment and abuse by school employees.

Understanding School Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

Who might be held liable in the event that a student faces sexual harassment at school? This will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, and there are some complex laws regarding liability that must be examined before such a lawsuit may be filed. However, in a general sense, it is perfectly within the rights of the student to sue should sexual harassment occur, especially at the hands of an official. 

It has often been the case that a student, or his or her parents, will sue the school district when sexual harassment occurs at the hands of a school official. This is rationalized by the fact that the school official is an employee of the school, and thus, it is the school that is responsible for the student’s exposure to this individual’s sexual harassment. While this reasoning has merit, it generally does not provide the basis for a successful lawsuit unless it can be proven that there was a pattern of abuse and/or that the school district knew about the sexual harassment. If it can be shown that the school district knew the person in question was a threat, and yet, chose not to act, this would be like a “smoking gun,” though it may be difficult to prove. In other words, if the school official has acted similarly in the past and has not been reprimanded; if nobody in the district is checking to ensure the behavior is not taking place; or, if the student complained but nothing was done, the school district could be held liable.

Whether or not the school district itself is responsible and is sued, the student has the right to sue the school official; this is true even if the student does not file a lawsuit against the school district. The individual who is exhibiting the behavior is responsible for the behavior, and, because the student is required to be in school and cannot avoid the environment, he or she has the right to legal recourse because he or she is protected, by law, and has the reasonable expectation of safety and comfort while on school grounds.

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If you or someone you know has questions about filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against a school official, it is in your best interest to promptly contact an attorney.

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