Doe v. Alpena Public School District
Public Justice, the ACLU of Michigan, and A Better Balance filed an amicus brief in support of a student survivor of sexual harassment in Doe v. Alpena Public School District. This Michigan Supreme Court case concerns the correct legal standards for assessing sexual harassment claims brought by students under Michigan’s civil rights law.
Jane Doe attended Alpena Public Schools in Michigan. In fourth grade, a classmate sexually harassed her repeatedly. Jane brought a claim in state court against her school under a Michigan anti-discrimination law known as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”). The trial court dismissed the case on the basis that the ELCRA does not allow students to sue in court for peer sexual harassment. The appellate court disagreed. In determining how courts should assess such a claim, it adopted a standard drawn from state workplace discrimination law: schools must take “prompt and appropriate remedial action upon notice of the hostile . . . environment.” The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the case, however, on the basis that the school had met this burden.
Jane asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review the case. In June 2023, the Court scheduled “oral argument on the application,” which means it will consider the merits of the case before deciding whether to accept the case formally for disposition.
In an amicus brief, Public Justice, the ACLU of Michigan, and A Better Balance argued that the appellate court was right that the Michigan Supreme Court should adopt the legal standards it uses for workplace harassment cases in cases concerning schools’ mishandling of peer harassment,. The brief explained why the Michigan Supreme Court should not use the worse standard the U.S. Supreme Court designed for peer harassment claims brought under Title IX, the federal sex discrimination law. That federal standard is based on legal considerations inapplicable to the ELCRA and has had devastating effects on students’ civil rights.