The U. S. Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had established a federal definition of marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The Court’s 5-4 vote in U.S. v. Windsor will reach well beyond the case of Edith Windsor, a New York widow, who was sent a $363,000 estate tax bill by the Internal Revenue Service after her wife died in 2009. The Windsor decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married now must be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples. What does that mean for school districts? My colleagues, Jeff Nowak and Veronica Silva, provide their take on this decision’s impact on employers, including public schools, in a recent FR Alert.
Mlive.com and the NSBA Legal Clips recently reported that a Michigan School entered into an agreement with the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) to resolve allegations that the district failed to properly address claims of sexual assault by one student on two other students. The case provides an important reminder of the stringent standards to which OCR holds school districts when investigating claims of sexual harassment and violence against students.
In 2010, two female students in the Grand Rapids school district reported being sexually assaulted by a prominent male athlete. One of the students and her parents later reported on fifteen occasions that the student was repeatedly harassed in retaliation after the assault. The student reported being shoved in the hallways, bullied online, and taunted at school sporting events. The student eventually dropped out of extracurricular activities and later out of school.
OCR found that the District did not adequately investigate or respond to the complaints of assault and retaliation. The following are key takeaways that can be gleaned from OCR’s decision: