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Doe v. Katy Independent School District

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

December 13, 2019

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
KATY INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          LEE H. ROSENTHAL CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         When a high-school teacher and a student have a sexual relationship, it is the stuff of nightmares for school districts, principals, and, of course, parents. This case is no exception. Jane Doe, an 18-year-old high school senior, had an intimate relationship with one of her teachers, Robert Milton. Doe sued the Katy Independent School District, several District employees, and Milton, asserting federal-law claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (Title IX), and a state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Docket Entry No. 1). After multiple motions to dismiss and amended complaints, only the Title IX claim against the District remains.

         The District moved for summary judgment that it is not liable under Title IX and, in any event, cannot be required to pay punitive damages. (Docket Entry No. 58). Doe responded, the District replied, and the court heard oral argument on the motion. (Docket Entry Nos. 65, 66, 70). Doe then moved to supplement the summary judgment record, and the court granted the motion with an extension of the discovery deadline to allow the District to respond. (Docket Entry Nos. 71, 77).

         Based on the record, the pleadings, motions, arguments, and the applicable law, the court grants in part and denies in part the District's motion for summary judgment. The court denies summary judgment for the District on the Title IX claim because there are genuine factual disputes material to determining the District's knowledge of the risk that Milton would have a sexual relationship with a student. The court grants summary judgment for the District on the punitive damages claim because these damages are not available under Title IX.

         The reasons are explained in detail below.

         I. Background

         Doe's primary argument on the Title IX claim is that Milton had earlier incidents of a sexual nature with students at District schools that would allow a jury to find that the District knew of, and was deliberately indifferent to, the risk that he posed to female students like Doe. Each incident raised in Doe's amended complaint is described below, drawing the facts from the summary judgment evidence.

         A. “Jackie”

         In 2001, Milton was a teacher at Mayde Creek High School, a school in the District. (Docket Entry No. 65 at 3). That fall, art teacher Kelly Booth[1] saw Milton spending time alone with “Jackie, ”[2] a female student. (Docket Entry No. 65-A at 10). Jackie wore one of Milton's shirts in art class until the school principal, O.D. Tompkins, told her to remove it. (Id. at 12). Booth also saw Jackie wearing Milton's wedding ring. (Id. at 13). Booth told other teachers about her concerns that Milton was too close to Jackie, but Booth did not tell Tompkins. (Id. at 20). Booth did speak to the Mayde Creek High School assistant principal, Mary Jane Crowe, but Booth did not describe what she had seen because she did not feel comfortable talking to Crowe. (Id. at 19-20). Booth testified in her deposition that she had previously complained to Crowe about a teacher taking students off campus on an unauthorized field trip. (Id. at 18). In response, Crowe told Booth “to mind her own business.” (Id. at 18-19). Booth did not share her concerns about Milton and Jackie with any other District administrator. (Id. at 22).

         Substitute teacher Kevin Colopy also testified in his deposition that he saw inappropriate behavior between Milton and Jackie. (Docket Entry No. 65-B). Colopy saw Milton eating lunch alone with female students, including Jackie. (Id. at 14-15). On one occasion, he saw Milton embracing Jackie from behind. (Id. at 10). Colopy told fellow teachers, but he did not report the incident to the Mayde Creek High School principal or assistant principal. (Id. at 10-11).

         On another occasion, Colopy thought he saw Milton and Jackie embracing in a car. (Id. at 12). Colopy talked to assistant principal Crowe, but he gave only a general report that Milton had been “very inappropriate . . . with this young girl.” (Id. at 14, 27).[3] Crowe told Colopy that Colopy should not make this his business if he wanted a job in the District. (Id.).

         Colopy also testified that he called the office of the administrator for substitute teachers in the District and made a complaint. (Id. at 15, 25). In that call, Colopy described “what [he] witnessed with [Milton] in the classroom with these students.” (Id. at 15). Colopy could not remember who he spoke to on the phone, and nothing came of the call. (Id.). Colopy thought that after his call, Milton's behavior would stop, but he again saw Jackie wearing Milton's sweatshirt. (Id. at 16). Colopy complained to other teachers, but he did not complain to another District administrator. (Id.).

         Later, Crowe asked Colopy if he had been talking with other teachers about what he and Crowe had “talked about.” (Id.). Crowe implied that talking about Milton meant that Colopy no longer wanted to work for the District. (Id.). Colopy became frustrated and walked to Milton's classroom, where he called Milton a “[expletive] pedophile.” (Id. at 16-17). Because the classroom doors were open, Colopy assumed that his accusation might have been heard by around a hundred teachers and students. (Id. at 17, 23). Colopy testified that no District administrators were present, but he believed that they were “aware of it” because he was terminated as a substitute teacher shortly afterwards. (Id. at 23-24). Doe alleges that when Milton was later transferred to Katy High School, it was without any record of Kevin Colopy's complaint. (Docket Entry No. 65 at 22).

         Principal Tompkins testified in his deposition that he never heard about anything improper, including about a sexual relationship, involving Milton and a student. (Docket Entry No. 58-H at 79). Tompkins testified that Milton's transfer from Mayde Creek High School to Katy High School was Milton's choice, and at the request of Katy High School's assistant principal. (Id. at 58; see also Docket Entry No. 78-M; Docket Entry No. 78-N). Tompkins was asked whether the transfer decision had anything to do with “the mess”[4] in the Mayde Creek High School art department. (Docket Entry No. 58-H at 58). He testified that he could not say if that was the reason. (Id.).

         B. Four Unidentified Female Students

         After leaving Mayde Creek High School, Milton worked at Katy High School as an art teacher. (Docket Entry No. 65-C at 9-10). Katy High School Spanish teacher Geir Bentzen testified in his deposition that on one occasion in 2010, four female students told him that “Milton touched them during art class and that they were uncomfortable.” (Docket Entry No. 58-G at 10).[5]While he could not recall specifics, Bentzen testified that “[Milton] touched them [on their] shoulders and neck, ” and “they were upset about it.” (Id. at 11-12). Bentzen testified that because he believed he was required to report what the students told him, he believes he contacted Katy High School assistant principal Scott Rounds, but Bentzen was uncertain. (Id. at 12-13). When asked again, Bentzen testified that it was “more likely than not” that he had reported what the students had told him about Milton touching them. (Id. at 20, 25). Bentzen also testified that he believed Rounds found fault in whatever Bentzen did or said. (Id. at 21). Rounds testified in his declaration that “Geir Bentzen never made any reports to [him] about any kind of inappropriate conduct by Robert Milton, whether towards female students or anyone else.” (Docket Entry No. 58-E at 1).

         C. “Becky”

         In 2012, a former Katy High School librarian, Robin Cashman, told the school secretary, Debbie Davis, about a rumor that Milton was having lunch alone every day with a female student, “Becky.”[6] (Docket Entry No. 58-D at 1). Davis relayed this report to the Katy High School principal, Steve Robertson. (Id.). Robertson checked the school security cameras and confirmed that Becky was going to Milton's classroom alone during her lunch hour. (Id.). Robertson reported this to Debbie Harris, the District's assistant superintendent for human resources. (Id.). The District placed Milton on administrative leave pending investigation. (Id.).

         District police officers and District administrators also investigated Milton's relationship with Becky. (Id. at 2). A District police officer talked to Lisa Matschek, a substitute teacher, who confirmed that Becky regularly ate lunch in Milton's classroom. (Id. at 12). This officer also spoke to Laura Anne Williams, a Katy High School art teacher, who said that Becky had “concerning” drawings, one of a nude female and another of a young girl sitting on a man's lap. (Id. at 13). Williams did not believe that Becky had made these drawings. (Id.).

         District police officers and District administrators both interviewed Becky. (Docket Entry No. 58-D at 2). Becky denied anything inappropriate between her and Milton. (Id.). Becky told District police that she had asked Milton if she could work in his classroom during lunch, and Milton had told her that his classroom was always open to students. (Id.). Becky stated that she was “nothing more than a student to [Milton] and he [was] nothing more than a teacher to [her].” (Id. at 2-3). Becky provided the District police with the art book from which she had copied the “concerning” drawings. (Id. at 14-15). The District police concluded that concerns about Milton's behaving inappropriately with Becky were “unfounded.” (Id. at 16).

         The District administrators similarly found no evidence of an inappropriate relationship between Milton and Becky. (Id. at 3). The District provided Milton with a written memorandum of the investigation result and directions for future performance and protocol. (Id.). Robertson testified that he had no similar problems with Milton until 2014, when Robertson left Katy High School to become the District's assistant superintendent for secondary school leadership and support. (Id. at 3).

         D. Jane Doe

         Jane Doe attended Katy High School and graduated in 2015. (Docket Entry No. 65-C at 7). Doe joined the National Art Honor Society as a freshman, where she met Milton, who served as an advisor. (Id. at 10). During Doe's junior year, Milton would make sexual jokes and innuendoes around her. (Id. at 15-16). Doe took Milton's art history course in her senior year. (Id. at 10). In the fall of 2014, Doe turned 18. (Id. at 17). Milton began sharing intimate details about his personal life and marriage and encouraging Doe to make nude paintings of herself. (Id. at 17-18). In April 2015, Milton and Doe began a sexual relationship. (Id. at 19).

         Milton would leave notes for Doe at school, where they communicated often. (Id. at 24- 27). During school hours, Doe spent much of her time with Milton, painting, talking with him, and kissing and touching in Milton's classroom closet. (Id. at 24-28). Doe told a fellow student about the relationship, but neither Doe nor the student told a teacher or a school administrator. (Id. at 21-22). Doe testified that she thought Natalie Rodriguez, another art teacher, had detected their relationship ...


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