Former Gwinnett student appeals dismissed discrimination case

A lawsuit against Gwinnett County Public Schools over its handling of a reported sexual assault is now in the hands of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A former student sued the district in 2018. A federal district court judge dismissed the case in September. Her attorneys from Public Justice, a nonprofit legal agency, recently filed an appeal.

The lawsuit accuses the district of discriminating and retaliating against her after she reported that she had been sexually assaulted by a male student at Peachtree Ridge High School in 2015.

In a statement, Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said the district expects the appellate court to dismiss the case. She said the district disputes the allegations described in the appeal. The district It also “disputes the characterization of the event as a rape.”

After the female student, identified as Jane Doe, reported the alleged assault, both she and the boy she accused faced the district’s discipline process. At a hearing, the boy’s attorney said his accuser didn’t resist or say, “no.” The girl’s attorney said she told the boy to stop. Both students were suspended.

The student said she faced bullying and harassment that forced her to move to a new district.

The suit accuses the school district of violating the student’s civil rights under Title IX. Title IX is a federal law that protects against discrimination on the basis of sex in schools. It also argues the school district failed to train school officials on how to address sexual harassment.

Roach said the district investigated the allegations and took action in accordance with school policy and Title IX.

As he dismissed the case, District Court Judge Steve C. Jones wrote that the hardships the student faced didn’t prove systemic issues or Title IX violations. He also wrote that evidence showed the student was punished for what the school deemed consensual sexual conduct, not for reporting an assault.

“Unfortunately, Jane’s experience is not uncommon,” Public Justice stated in a recent news release. “Too many student survivors — and especially girls of color like Jane — are punished when they report that they were sexually assaulted.”