A case to determine whether Fairfax County Public Schools can be held liable under Title IX for an incident of sexual assault will be heading to federal court after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the county’s school board Monday.
The board’s appeal, which argued that the school system should not be held accountable for the alleged sexual assault in 2017, when there had been no prior notice of a problem, was rejected without comment. The original lawsuit was filed in 2018, with the alleged victim, anonymously identified as Jane Doe, accusing an Oakton High School classmate of sexually assaulting her on a school bus during a five-day band trip to Indianapolis.
In that case, Doe said she did not say “no” or get up from her seat during the alleged assault, which took place as the two students sat together under a blanket. Doe testified that during the encounter, the male student repeatedly forced her to touch him, as well as penetrated her with his fingers and fondled her without consent. Doe said that she never said “yes” to the male student throughout the incident.
Doe did not initially report the alleged assault due to the resulting trauma, her attorney previously told The Washington Post. Several friends whom she did tell, however, eventually notified school employees.
The school system argued that liability without adequate notice unfairly extends the reach of Title IX, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. Representatives for the school board reportedly argued in the original suit that the student only raised alarms about the assault after learning the male student was in a relationship.
The original suit concluded in 2019, with a civil jury acquitting Fairfax County Public Schools of any wrongdoing after finding that notice of the assault, which the case concluded did occur, had not been properly given to the school system.
Last year, however, the lawsuit was reinstated by a federal appeals court after a 2-1 majority of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court determined that “it was obvious that the school had notice, given that the girl herself told administrators she’d been touched without her consent, and multiple students and parents reported the alleged assault as word got around,” according to an Associated Press report.
Fifteen judges of the 4th Circuit convened, with nine voting in favor of reinstating the suit. The pending federal case will now start from scratch to determine whether Jane Doe was assaulted and if proper notice was given.
“Jane is ready for her new trial, and is confident she will prevail,” Alexandra Brodsky, an attorney with the nonprofit legal advocacy group Public Justice, wrote in a statement. “The question for Fairfax is whether it wants to risk a loss, and millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees, in order to force a young survivor to relive, yet again, traumatic events she is working to put behind her.”
Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson Julie Moult released a written statement as well, arguing that the school system “could not have foreseen the incident between two high school students in March 2017.”
“No harassment happened after school administrators responded,” Moult wrote. “If the case is retried, FCPS expects to again show that its staff went to extraordinary lengths to provide support to the plaintiff after the incident.”
For more stories like this, subscribe to our News newsletter.