678 F.3d 1254 (11th Cir. 2012), 11-13297, J.F.K. v. Troup County School Dist.

Docket Nº:11-13297.
Citation:678 F.3d 1254
Opinion Judge:ALBRITTON, District Judge:
Party Name:J.F.K., M.C.K., as Next Friends, Parents and Natural Guardians of O.K.K., a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. TROUP COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Elizabeth M. Gaddy, Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Craig Thomas Jones, Page Perry, LLC, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. Kenneth Drew Jones, Kevin Andrew Leipow, Hall Booth Smith & Slover, PC, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before WILSON and MARTIN, Circuit Judges, and ALBRITTON,[*] District Judge.
Case Date:May 03, 2012
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1254

678 F.3d 1254 (11th Cir. 2012)

J.F.K., M.C.K., as Next Friends, Parents and Natural Guardians of O.K.K., a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

TROUP COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Elizabeth M. Gaddy, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 11-13297.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

May 3, 2012

Craig Thomas Jones, Page Perry, LLC, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Kenneth Drew Jones, Kevin Andrew Leipow, Hall Booth Smith & Slover, PC, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Page 1255

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before WILSON and MARTIN, Circuit Judges, and ALBRITTON,[*] District Judge.

ALBRITTON, District Judge:

I. Introduction

J.F.K., et al., appeal the district court's grant of Troup County School District's (" Troup" ) motion for summary judgment as to the Plaintiffs' sexual harassment claim brought pursuant to Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681.1

The Appellants argue that the district court improperly applied a Title VII framework instead of the appropriate Title IX framework. Moreover, the Appellants argue that, although the district court offered a correct account of the facts, it erred by deciding that those facts, taken in a light most favorable to the Appellants, failed to create an issue of material fact as to the notice prong of the Title IX framework.

II. Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment

This court reviews de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment, applying the same legal standards as the district court. Tiara Condo. Ass'ns, Inc. v. Marsh & McLennan Co., Inc., 607 F.3d 742 (11th Cir.2010). This court will affirm if, after construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, it finds that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Alvarez v. Royal Atlantic Developers, Inc., 610 F.3d 1253, 1263-64 (11th Cir.2010). Moreover, the " district court's decision may be affirmed if the result is correct, even if the court relied upon an incorrect ground or gave a wrong reason." Id. (citing Turlington v. Atlanta Gas Light Co., 135 F.3d 1428, 1433 n. 9 (11th Cir.1998)).

B. Title IX Standard

While we agree with the result of the district court's decision, we write to correct the standard applied by it.

The Supreme Court has recognized an implied right of action under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, against a school district receiving federal education funding for sexual harassment of a student by a teacher ( see Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60, 75, 112 S.Ct. 1028, 117 L.Ed.2d 208 (1992)), although agency principles may not be used to impute liability for misconduct of its teacher ( see Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 283, 118 S.Ct. 1989, 141 L.Ed.2d 277 (1998)).

This court has explained that " the Supreme Court made plain that not all sexual harassment by teachers is sufficient to impose liability on a school district." Doe v. School Bd. Of Broward County, Fla., 604 F.3d 1248, 1254 (11th Cir.2010) (citing Gebser ). In order to defeat summary judgment for such a claim, the plaintiff must satisfy three different inquiries. Id. The plaintiff must be able to 1) identify a person with " authority to take corrective measures in response to actual notice of sexual harassment," 2) demonstrate that the notice was " sufficient to alert the school official of the possibility of the Title

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IX plaintiff's harassment," and 3) show that the authority figure acted with deliberate indifference to the notice of harassment. Id. There is no dispute that the school's principal, Thomas Whatley (" Whatley" ), is the appropriately identified authority figure who satisfies the first inquiry. The Appellants' first issue on appeal, then, is with the district court's articulation of the standard to be applied for the second inquiry, the substance of the actual notice.

The district court combined Title VII workplace discrimination standards with Title IX teacher-on-student harassment standards when it articulated the Appellants' burden as to inquiry two as follows:

To summarize, Plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating that a reasonable person in Principal Whatley's position would conclude, based on what he had learned, that O.K.K. had been subject to unwelcome harassment by Gaddy that was either gender based or sexual in nature and that the harassment was so severe and pervasive that it threatened to create a hostile (or abusive) environment in an educational program or activity.

The district court's articulation of the standard improperly added two provisions. First, the district court improperly included an inquiry as to whether or not the harassment by Gaddy was " unwelcome." Such an inquiry has never been part of the teacher-on-student harassment calculus. Second, the district court improperly included the requirement that the harassment be so severe and pervasive that it threatened to create a hostile environment in an educational program or activity. Again, as to teacher-on-student harassment, this has never been required. In fact, in Sauls v. Pierce County School District, 399 F.3d 1279 (11th Cir.2005), this court noted that " [b]ecause this case involves teacher-on-student harassment, Appellants need not establish [the teacher's] misconduct was ‘ so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive’ that it denied [the plaintiff] equal access to educational programs or opportunities." Id. at 1284. The addition of these two factors created a standard more favorable to defendants than was envisioned by this court in Broward.

The Appellants argue, and this court agrees, that the simple articulation of the standard in Broward is sufficient. Simply put, the actual notice must be sufficient to alert the decision-maker to the possibility of sexual harassment by the teacher.

The district court's reliance on the wrong standard does not necessarily mandate that this court must now reverse its decision and remand the case. Because this court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, it will now consider whether the record facts establish that the Appellants have satisfied their burden to defeat summary judgment as...

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