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Third Circuit Rejects Plaintiff’s Title IX Claim Against University
Plaintiff K. L., at the time a freshman at Rutgers University, complained that she was sexually assaulted by her then-boyfriend John Bowers and his friend Marques Ford, both members of the Rutgers football team. Rutgers investigated her complaint and ultimately suspended Bowers and expelled Ford. Four months prior to K.L.’s assault, Ford trespassed into another female student’s on-campus apartment at 4:00 a.m. while he was naked and inebriated. The student reported Ford to Rutgers University Police, and Rutgers investigated and sanctioned Ford by placing him on disciplinary probation and requiring him to undergo an Alcohol and Drug Assistance Program assessment.
K.L. brought Title IX and other claims against Rutgers, alleging that the University was deliberately indifferent to her Title IX rights because the University had not adequately responded after the previous incident where Ford trespassed into another female student’s apartment. K.L. contended that a reasonable jury could have found the investigation of Ford and Bowers to be “biased” and the sanctions imposed a “sham,” and that she would not have been assaulted had Rutgers “adequately responded” to the earlier incident involving Ford. K.L. also argued that an employee of the Rutgers Athletics Department intervened in both investigations to secure leniency for Ford.
To prevail on her Title IX claim, K.L. must show: 1) Rutgers received federal funds; 2) sexual harassment occurred; 3) Rutgers exercised substantial control over the harasser and the context in which the harassment occurred; 4) Rutgers had actual knowledge of the harassment; 5) Rutgers was deliberately indifferent to the harassment; and 6) the harassment was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it deprived K.L. of her access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school. Here, the only element in dispute was whether Rutgers was deliberately indifferent to K.L.’s Title IX rights. The trial court found that the record did not support a finding that Rutgers’s response to either incident was clearly unreasonable.
In affirming summary judgment for Rutgers, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that no reasonable juror could conclude that the Rutgers was deliberately indifferent in the previous incident involving Ford because, in addition to the sanctions it imposed, it had also dispatched Rutgers police officers and residence life staff to investigate and make sure the female student was safe, offered counseling and psychiatric resources, and filed a juvenile delinquency complaint against the trespassing student. There was also no evidence that the Athletics Department’s alleged involvement influenced Rutgers’s response to either incident. Because Rutgers was not deliberately indifferent to the earlier incident, K.L.’s claims failed.
K.L. v. Rutgers University (3d. Cir. 2022) No. 21-1508.
This case is from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. This case is not binding in California, but it does provide some insight into how one federal appellate court interpreted a plaintiff’s Title IX claim. If your school, college, or university needs assistance understanding Title IX law and regulations, learn more about LCW’s Title IX compliance training program and other resources by visiting this page.