under Title IX for the sexual harassment of a student by a teacher
there is a very clear standard. There must be actual notice and
deliberate indifference on the part of an appropriate person at the
school district. Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. at
292-93. The U.S. Supreme Court specifically rejected the use of agency
principles, as are used in Title VII cases, when determining the extent of
school district liability in Title IX cases. Id. at 288-89.
The absence in a school district of a strong sexual harassment policy
might indicate deliberate indifference. However, in this case the school
district had a very specific policy prohibiting sexual harassment and
discussed the subject during teacher training seminars. Likewise,
deliberate indifference might be inferred from inaction following a
complaint of harassment. But here Deptford Township High School's
response to Plaintiff's complaint was swift and decisive. Nor can it be
said that the Board of Education had prior notice of Corsey's undesirable
No person working for the school or the district had any previous
warning of Corsey's behavior, nor had there been any previous complaints
against him. Plaintiffs assert that a complaint made years earlier that
Corsey was wearing pants that were too tight and a warning from the
athletic director to Corsey about driving students in his private
automobile should have been enough to put the school district on notice.
However, the complaint about the pants involved Corsey wearing spandex
running pants, certainly an outfit that a track coach might wear, and did
not in any way suggest that he might sexually harass or assault a
student. The warning about the car was almost surely given in order to
limit liability in the event of an accident. In fact, the letter to
Corsey even mentioned the possibility of such liability. The school
district simply did not have any reason to think that Corsey might
sexually harass one of his students.
More importantly, once the district did learn about Corsey's behavior
it acted appropriately. Corsey was almost immediately suspended and never
returned to the school. The district also informed the proper authorities
upon learning of K.P.'s allegations. Once the district had actual
knowledge of Corsey's behavior it acted with the opposite of deliberate
indifference by promptly suspending Corsey and reporting the
allegations. In addition, the plaintiffs' allegations under the NJLAD
must also fail as there is no evidence that anyone at the school failed
to adequately protect students from sexual harassment or failed to act
appropriately once they became aware of the allegations.
Plaintiffs also claim that the Board of Education has violated their
42 U.S.C. § 1983 rights. Section 1983 provides for the imposition of
liability on any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives
another of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is not a
source of substantive rights, but merely provides "a method for
vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Graham v. Connor,
490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). To assert a claim successfully under §
1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of a right secured by the
Constitution and laws of the United States and that the alleged
deprivation was committed by a person "acting under color of State law."
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Flagg Bros. Inc. v. Brooks,
436 U.S. 149, 155 (1978);
Shaw v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1142 (3d
The Plaintiffs have clearly made a proper claim against Corsey under
§ 1983. First, he acted under color of state law since the acts of
harassment occurred in the course of his employment by the Board of
Education. Second, it has been established that sexual harassment of
students in school is a constitutional violation of the student's due
process right to be free from "unjustified intrusions on personal
security." Stoneking v. Bradford Area Sch. Dist., 882 F.2d 720, 726-27
(3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 673 (1977)).
Whether the Board of Education may be held liable under § 1983 for
Corsey's actions is a different matter, however, since the theory of
respondeat superior is inapplicable. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of
City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691-94 (1978). "A defendant in a civil
rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs;
liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat
superior." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)
(citations omitted). Thus, in order to assert a claim against the Board
of Education, Plaintiffs must allege that a constitutional deprivation
resulted from an official custom or policy or, alternatively, from the
actions of an official with "final authority to establish municipal
policy." Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1986).
In this case it is obvious that there is no custom or policy of the
school district or the school that led to the sexual harassment of K.P.
In fact, the school had a policy to prevent the sexual harassment of its
students, and the school had in place the procedures that allowed it to
quickly report the harassment to the authorities and suspend the
teacher. It is also clear that Corsey was not an employee with policy
making authority. He was not a member of the administration of the school
and, as track coach, had authority similar to that of any teacher in the
school. None of these positions carry policy making authority.
Therefore, under § 1983 the Board of Education cannot be liable for
the sexual harassment of one of its teachers or coaches.
Plaintiffs final claim against the Board of Education is under
N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1, the statue which creates a civil cause of action for
sexual abuse. Defendant Board of Education has requested summary judgment
on this issue, and the Plaintiffs in their reply brief to the Court agree
that any violation of this statute by Corsey is not cognizable against
the Board of Education. As there is no dispute over this issue, the Court
will grant the Board of Education's request for summary judgment.
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary
judgment will be denied. Defendant Board of Education's motion for
summary judgment on all issues will be granted.