Lawsuit by Student Accuses Academic Coach of Sexual Harassment

Derek Jensen [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA student at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana has filed suit against the university and a former university employee, alleging sexual harassment, race discrimination, and other claims. Doe v. Univ. of Notre Dame, et al, No. 71C01-1510-CT-000390, complaint (Ind. Cir. Ct., St. Joseph Co., Oct. 30, 2015). Although the plaintiff filed suit in an Indiana state court, the complaint asserts several claims under federal law. The laws cited by the plaintiff, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., specifically pertain to education. They offer protections, however, that are comparable to those provided by federal employment laws like Title VII of the aforementioned Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, and national origin. The prohibition on sex discrimination has been interpreted by the courts to include sexual harassment when a manager or supervisor sets conditions on a worker’s employment in connection with a request or demand for sexual activity in some form (quid pro quo sexual harassment); or when the level of inappropriate sexual remarks, advances, or other conduct directed toward a worker renders the workplace intolerable for that worker (hostile work environment). Courts have found that Title IX, which prohibits various forms of discrimination in education based on sex, also allows a civil cause of action for sexual harassment by a teacher, administrator, employee, or, in some circumstances, fellow student.

Neither the plaintiff nor the individual defendant are named in the complaint. The plaintiff states that he enrolled at the university in the 2014 fall semester on an academic scholarship. He identifies the defendant as “an administrator and academic coach” who “provide[s] academic support and counseling to students and student-athletes.” Doe, complaint at 2. He states that he began receiving “academic support and guidance” from the defendant during the spring 2015 semester. Id.

The plaintiff alleges that the defendant “[i]mmediately…orchestrated[,] initiated, directed, and coordinated a sexually and racially inappropriate and demeaning relationship” with him. Id. This allegedly included “commanding…[the plaintiff] to engage in sexual relations with [the defendant’s] own daughter,” “interrogating” the plaintiff about these encounters, and “demeaning [him] with racially-charged comments about his sexual prowess.” Id. at 2-3. The plaintiff is African-American, and the defendant and her daughter are white.

The complaint further claims that an employee who provided “psychiatric support” to students, and who was a “friend and confidant” of the defendant, put him on medication “to keep him passive, cooperative, and under control.” Id. at 4. It alleges that the defendant also “exacerbated [the plaintiff’s] stress by pressuring him to convert to Catholicism against his will.” Id. Finally, the plaintiff claims that the defendant engaged in similar activities targeting “other similarly situated young, African-American, male students.” Id. at 3. The university, the lawsuit claims, allegedly knew or should have known about the extent of the issue, but failed to take steps to protect the plaintiff and other students.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates fight for the rights of current, former, and prospective employees in New York City. We advocate for our clients in claims for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other unlawful workplace practices under city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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Photo credit: Derek Jensen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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