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Doe v. Madison Metropolitan School District

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 26, 2018

Jane Doe No. 55, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Madison Metropolitan School District, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued November 30, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 3:15-cv-00570-bbc - Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook and Manion, Circuit Judges, and Lee, District Judges. [*]

          Lee, District Judge.

         The allegations in this case are troubling, to say the least. The appellant, Jane Doe, claims that she was sexually assaulted by a security guard at her middle school while she was in eighth grade. Seeking redress, she filed suit against the Madison Metropolitan School District under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). To obtain damages against the school district, Doe was required to prove, among other things, that a school official had actual knowledge of the alleged conduct. The question in this case is whether a reasonable jury could have found, based upon the summary judgment record, that the principal at Doe's middle school had actual knowledge of the security guard's misconduct. The district court thought not and granted summary judgment in the school district's favor. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Jane Doe attended Whitehorse Middle School in the Madison Metropolitan School District from 2011 to 2014. During that time, Willie Collins was a security assistant at White horse. In that capacity, Collins supervised lunch and recess, oversaw students in detention, and monitored the school for safety and security.

         Deborah Ptak was the principal of Whitehorse, and she supervised the entire staff, including Collins. Collins was a larger-than-life presence at the school. Ptak was aware that Collins had been a mentor and confidant to many students. She regularly saw Collins hugging male and female students and observed that most of the hugs were student-initiated.

         On a few occasions while Doe was in seventh grade, Ptak saw Collins walk up behind Doe as she was seated at a table in the cafeteria and rub the top of her shoulders with his hands. Collins had not singled Doe out in this regard, however, as he engaged in similar physical contact with many students, boys and girls alike.

         Tracy Warnecke, the school's positive behavioral support coach, told Ptak in the spring of 2013 that she was concerned after seeing Doe frequently seek out Collins, initiate hugs with Collins, and sometimes jump and hang onto him. Warnecke informed Ptak that, on one occasion, she saw Doe jump on Collins and kiss him on the cheek. Warnecke did note that when Doe attempted to kiss Collins again, he rebuffed her and spoke to Doe privately. After that, Warnecke did not see Doe attempt to kiss Collins again. At the end of the conversation, Ptak told Warnecke that she would follow up with Collins about Warnecke's concerns.

         Around that time, Mary McAuliffe, the school's counselor, notified Ptak that she and Brooke Gritt, one of Doe's teachers, echoed Warnecke's concerns based on their own observations. McAuliffe told Ptak that she and Gritt had seen Collins give Doe a shoulder rub and had seen Doe look for Collins, hug him, jump and hang on him, and on one occasion, attempt to kiss Collins on the cheek. Ptak told McAuliffe that she should speak with Doe and that Ptak would discuss the matter with Collins.

         In addition, at a school committee meeting, Karen Wydenven, the school's psychologist, and McAuliffe spoke to Ptak and Warnecke about a group of seventh grade girls who were hanging around Collins. Ptak responded, "That's just Willie's personality, you know, because he's a coach; and you know, the kids know him."

         On April 11, 2013, Ptak met with Collins to discuss the is- sues raised by Warnecke, McAuliffe and Gritt. Ptak expressed concern for Doe's well-being and stated that Doe could have a crush on Collins. Collins told Ptak that Doe merely had been confiding in him about her problematic relationships with her family and peers and that he was providing her with support. Ptak cautioned Collins against hugging and physically touching Doe and told Collins to limit any such conduct. Ptak reiterated that "clear" and "strong boundaries … needed to be set" and that "hugging and her jumping on him [wa]s not appropriate." Ptak also instructed Collins to speak to Doe only in common areas when others were around.

         Later that month, Gritt reported to McAuliffe that Doe had been intentionally cutting herself. That same day, McAuliffe brought up the matter with Doe, but Doe did not want to talk to McAuliffe. McAuliffe then called Doe's mother to report ...

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