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Former MSU students file for Title IX lawsuit review in US Supreme Court

July 17, 2020
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019.
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Three former Michigan State students are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review their Title IX case, according to their petition.

Their lawsuit, originally filed in 2015, was dismissed in December.

The lawsuit cited the Michigan State Board of Trustees and Vice President of Student Affairs Denise Maybank for their alleged lack of adequate response to sexual assault reports.

It was dismissed on the basis that "in a Title IX lawsuit a victim needs to allege that they experienced some sort of sexual misconduct, that they reported that misconduct to the school, the school acted with deliberate indifference and then after all of that, that the deliberate indifference caused actual subsequent sexual harassment as well,” the plaintiff's attorney, Alexander Zalkin, said in a previous interview.

“It’s been our position that the Supreme Court did not intend for that to be the outcome,” Zalkin said. “... As long as you are vulnerable to additional harassment, even if that harassment never materializes, you’re still able to maintain a Title IX claim.”

The petition asks for an appeal to this ruling due to the conflict it ensues among courts of appeals.

Additionally, three circuits hold that a school's deliberate indifference includes further sexual harassment as well as vulnerability to sexual harassment, according to the petition.

Largely, the petition focuses on the interpretation of Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. Specifically, what constitutes deliberate indifference from an educational institution regarding reports of sexual misconduct.

The plaintiffs ask that the U.S. Supreme Court reverse the prior dismissal of their lawsuit, and in doing so, "resolve the circuit conflict" regarding the interpretation of Davis v. Monroe.

"This case presents an ideal vehicle for deciding the scope of Davis liability," according to the petition, which cited no reason for further percolation.

“There’s a split in circuits as to how to handle these Title IX claims, and we think the Supreme Court needs to step in and tell everybody what the law is so that there can be uniformity,” Zalkin said. “We’re also asking them to resolve it our way because we think it’s the correct interpretation.”

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