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High school student assaulted by custodian has limited right to sue Ann Arbor School system

Jane Doe sued the Ann Arbor School System, her principal and the superviser of custodian Eric Rutley after Rutley sexually assaulted her.  Doe had complained to the principal about Rutley's inappropriate behavior and claimed that the school did not take adequate measures to protect her from assault.  The defendants raised various arguments attempting to avoid liability and three consolidated appeals were heard by the Court of Appeals.

The Court's opinion noted that the Plaintiff had given up on some of Doe's claims by acknowledging that she could not meet the Engler Majority's demand that the school system be relieved of any liability if it was not the "one most immediate, efficent and direct cause" of her injuries.  Assuming the perpetrator was more at fault than his employers, a prior decision by the Republican majority of the Michigan Supreme Court renders the other "at-fault" government actors immune from responsibility.

The Court then analyzed Doe's remaining claims and held that she can sue only for the school's responsibility in allowing her to be subjected to a hostile school environment resulting from sexual harassment. Noting that it was undisputed that Doe had complained to the principal about Rutley's inappropriate behavior ("flirtation" and leaving improper gifts and letters in her locker), and also noting that the harassment was inherently sexual in nature, the Court held that it would be for the fact-finder to determine whether the Defendants improperly allowed a hostile environment to exist.

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