By Eric Ganci
This starts with the horrible set of facts: a high school teacher has sex (or any kind of sexual relationship) with a high school student.
In the law, there can be a personal criminal action taken against the teacher. But there may also be a civil lawsuit filed against the School and School District, say for negligent hiring and negligent supervision.
April 13, 2022 (and modified May 4, 2022), the California Court of Appeal, Third District, decided Doe v. Anderson Union High School District, which gives more guidance and law about the causes of action for negligent hiring and negligent supervision. Specifically, if the School District owed certain duties to do certain things and whether the District breached those duties.
“Responsibility for the safety of public school students is not borne solely by instructional personnel. School principals and other supervisory employees, to the extent their duties include overseeing the educational environment and the performance of teachers and counselors, also have the responsibility of taking reasonable measures to guard pupils against harassment and abuse from foreseeable sources, including any teachers or counselors they know or have reason to know are prone to such abuse.”
That’s one key to this liability: whether the District knew or had reason to know.
And a possible difficult law to understand is this: “[t]hat an individual school employee has committed sexual misconduct with a student or students does not of itself establish, or raise any presumption, that the employing district should bear liability for the resulting injuries.”
So, just because the wrong act happened does not automatically mean the District knew or should have known it would happen.
The crux of this case:
Here Plaintiff filed two causes of action against the School District:
Negligent hiring of the Teacher
Negligent supervision of the Teacher
And the main question posed and decision was: do Negligent Hiring and Negligent Supervision have different duties whether the District “knew or should have known” Teacher would sexually assault the student?
Here, Plaintiff “urges a distinction between a school district’s duty in hiring as opposed to supervision. She claims the duty in hiring considers whether the school district knew or should have known that the teacher posed a risk of harm to students, whereas the duty of supervision does not.”
The Court disagrees with Plaintiff.
“We disagree. Even if the legal analysis in a hiring case might be different than the analysis in a supervision case, both require a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to support a duty.”
What happened in this case?
Teacher’s “relationship with Doe began with hand-holding and texting in Schafer’s classroom. Eventually, Doe began visiting Schafer’s classroom in the evening.” “A janitor once saw Doe alone with Schafer in his classroom after school but did not see any inappropriate conduct.” The sexual conduct began the first day of summer break and continued over 3 months.
Plaintiff “conceded she did not have evidence to support the negligent hiring cause of action, so the trial court focused on the negligent supervision cause of action….”
The Court here holds against Plaintiff and affirms the Motion for Summary Judgement in favor of the Defendant School District: that the sexual misconduct was not foreseeable, such that a jury could not decide per MSJ laws.
Plaintiff also argued the District had a duty to review security footage showing Teacher’s classroom. The Court disagreed with this too.
The final holdings: “the District did not have a duty to review alarm data and video recordings to constantly monitor all teachers, students, and campus visitors, nor did it have such a duty specifically with regard to Schafer and Doe. To impose such a duty on this record would be unreasonable.”