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Doe v. Prairie View A&M University

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 25, 2018

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Jane Doe, a student at Defendant Prairie View A&M University who worked in a research center there, alleges that her supervisor, Defendant Paul Johnson, sexually harassed and abused her. In an Amended Complaint, Doe brings claims under Title VII, Title IX, and Texas tort law against the University and a tort claim for sexual assault against Johnson. (Doc. No. 16.) The University and Johnson have each moved to dismiss all the claims against them, with the exception of the Title VII claims against the University. (Doc. No. 19, 25.)

         Students holding jobs in the educational institutions that they attend present a special case under Title IX. When such a student endures sexual harassment in her job, she simultaneously experiences harms relating to her employment and to her education. Title VII alone cannot remedy the full range of harms. Accordingly, based on the filings and the applicable law, the Court must deny the University's Motion to Dismiss as to Doe's Title IX claims. Doe's tort claims, however, are barred by state sovereign immunity and by Texas's election of remedies statute. The Court therefore must grant the University's Motion to Dismiss as to Doe's negligence claims and likewise grants Johnson's Motion to Dismiss as to Doe's sexual assault claim.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following allegations are drawn from Doe's Amended Complaint and taken as true for the purposes of the pending motions. Doe began attending the University in the spring of 2013. (Doc. No. 16 at 6.) In October 2015, Doe went to an off-campus social event with her aunt, where they met Defendant Johnson. (Id.) Following an “extremely friendly” interaction that night, Doe received a Facebook friend request from Johnson, who invited Doe to visit him at the University's agricultural research center where he worked. (Id. at 7.) Understanding that Johnson had a job to offer her, and “desperately searching for an on-campus student position, ” Doe went. (Id.) As Doe tells it, Johnson said that she would be a good fit for the job because she was an engineering student, and the job was available only to students at the University. (Id. at 8.)

         On November 9, 2015, Doe began working for Johnson at the research center. (Doc. No. 16 at 8.) Johnson had complimented Doe on her appearance during the job interview, and those comments developed into unwanted physical contact during her first week in the job. (Id. at 10.) Doe alleges that Johnson started hugging her, and he “progressed to fondling Jane's buttocks” when he did so. (Id.) Also during Doe's first week, she overheard Johnson and two unnamed men having a vulgar and demeaning discussion about the prospect of sex with her. (Id. at 9.)

         Doe alleges that Johnson's unwanted touching and demeaning comments soon progressed to outright sexual assault. (Doc. No. 16 at 11.) She says that on November 17, in Johnson's office, he coerced her into oral sex. (Id.) Her allegations describe an appalling act that left Doe frightened, humiliated, angry, and distraught. (Id. at 11-12.) Sexual harassment, abuse, and intimidation continued in the months that followed. (Id. at 12-15.) Doe's complaint details numerous incidents that, each on their own, would permit a sexual harassment claim to withstand a motion to dismiss. Doe also describes the harms that Johnson's conduct caused her. She says she became “an emotional wreck, ” “worried frantically about her job and her financial wellbeing if Johnson took [the job] from her.” (Id.) She began to struggle academically as well. (Id.)

         Doe also began to speak up. On a date she does not specify, she told Johnson that she would no longer endure his behavior. (Doc. No. 16 at 16.) He reacted angrily, according to Doe, and reduced her work hours “almost immediately.” (Id.) Doe then went to Eric Risch, whom she describes as Johnson's “immediate supervisor, ” on April 5, 2016. (Id.) She told Risch about Johnson reducing her hours but did not tell him about the harassment she had experienced. (Id.) This led to an unproductive meeting between Doe, Risch, and Johnson, after which Doe's “work environment with Johnson spiraled downhill, ” owing to Johnson's belief that Doe had reported his sexual abuse. (Id. at 17.)

         Doe had not reported Johnson's sexual harassment yet, but she took that step on April 12. (Doc. No. 16 at 18.) She says that she told Risch “everything” that Johnson had done and that Johnson had cut her hours after she finally objected to his behavior. (Id.) Risch's response was to note his long friendship with Johnson and to warn Doe about the serious consequences, both for Doe's conscience and for Johnson's wellbeing, if Doe reported him. (Id. at 18-19.) Doe also attributes a quote to Risch in which he displays a remarkable blindness to the possibility that Doe genuinely would not welcome Johnson's sexual advances. (Id. at 19.)

         After Doe reported Johnson to Risch, Johnson's hostility toward her worsened. (Doc. No. 16 at 19.) He again cut her hours and decided not to employ her over the summer, even as he hired different students to work in the research center. (Id. at 19-20.) Doe relayed this to Risch on April 29, who again dissuaded Doe from pursuing her complaints against Johnson. (Id. at 20.) Risch's only action was to convene a second meeting with Johnson and Doe, which Doe perceived as another attempt to keep her quiet. (Id. at 21.)

         By this point, Doe says that her “entire school life was falling apart and she was also suffering financially.” (Doc. No. 16 at 21.) Despite those difficulties and Risch's efforts at dissuasion, she reported her experiences with Johnson to the University's Title IX coordinator, whom she identifies as “A. Taylor, ” on May 19, 2016. (Id.) Upon hearing Doe's report, Taylor evidently responded that Doe's complaint was far from the first about Johnson and that this “happens all too often here at Prairie View.” (Id. at 22-23.) Doe's report led to some sort of investigation by the University, about which Doe's Amended Complaint says little, other than the investigation's apparent conclusion three months later that her allegations were unsubstantiated. (Id. at 23.)

         According to Doe, she endured threats, mockery, and unwarranted discipline from the University after her complaint against Johnson. (Doc. No. 16 at 24.) She says she received anonymous threatening phone calls; humiliating chastisement and derision from University employees; and the unjustified imposition of “Conduct Probation” in December 2016 and then a suspension in March 2017. (Id.) Though her suspension was rescinded and Doe still studies at the University, she says that members of the faculty have shunned her since she reported Johnson's misconduct. (Id. at 25.)

         Doe initiated this lawsuit against the University in June 2017, bringing claims under Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1.) Following a motion to dismiss from the University, Doe amended her complaint to include claims under Title VII against the University; claims for negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention against the University; and a claim for sexual assault against Johnson. (Doc. No. 16.) She also withdrew her Section 1983 claim. (Id.) The various amendments to Doe's complaint yielded the pending Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 19, 25.)

         II. ...

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