Hall v. Millersville University
Public Justice and the Women’s Law Project, joined by 29 other organizations, filed an amici brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in support of the plaintiffs in this Title IX dating violence case. The lawsuit, filed by representatives of the Estate of Karlie Hall, alleges that Millersville University violated Title IX by acting with deliberate indifference to known dating violence that resulted student Karlie Hall’s murder by her boyfriend. While a first-year student at the University, Karlie experienced dating violence by her boyfriend, Gregorio Orrostieta. Though not a Millersville student, Orrostieta frequently stayed in Karlie’s dorm room. Over the course of Karlie’s first year at the University, multiple reports were made to University officials about the physical and verbal abuse that Orrostieta was inflicting on Karlie. Despite receiving notice of the violence, the University did not take any meaningful steps to stop it. As a result, the violence escalated and Orrostieta eventually murdered Karlie in her dorm.
The district court dismissed the case, holding that the University did not have “substantial control” over Orrostieta because he was not a student, and therefore the University did not have sufficient notice that it could be liable under Title IX for failing to address abuse by the “invited visitor” of a student. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the University did, in fact, have substantial control over Orrostieta because, among other things, it had detailed policies governing who could access its dormitories, required visitors to check-in at a front desk, and limited the times at which visitors were permitted. Indeed, University staff had removed Orrostieta from the dorm more than once before, including after a violent incident.
The amici brief focused on Title IX’s application to dating violence, explaining that such violence is a form of sex-based harassment that is often severe, pervasive, prone to escalation, and sometimes lethal. The brief also discussed the physical, emotional, and educational consequences for student-victims, explaining why Title IX requires schools to take corrective action in response to reported dating violence.
On January 11, 2022, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of Karlie’s estate, holding that even though Orrostieta was not a student at Millersville, the University had substantial control over his actions in the dorm, and therefore could be held liable for failing to act. As a result, in the Third Circuit there is no categorical rule against educational institutions being held liable for sexual harassment committed against students by non-students where the institutions have notice of the harassment and fail to take appropriate action.
The University filed a petition for rehearing en banc, which was denied, so the case can now proceed to trial.
- Adele Kimmel, Alexandra Brodsky, and Adrienne Spiegel
Margaret Zhang, Sophia Elliott, and Terry Fromson of Women’s Law Project