SUBLETTE COUNTY – Big Piney school district officials accepted service of the federal civil rights lawsuit filed against them by former student “Jane Doe” that alleges officials ignored serious concerns of a teacher’s sexual harassment and assaults.
The suit was filed anonymously May 26 in Wyoming’s U.S District Court, where Judge Alan B. Johnson ordered all names had to be revealed without a court request to use pseudonyms.
He then ruled to ensure privacy, he would allow “Jane Doe” to proceed if the Big Piney officials were informed of real names.
The former student “Jane Doe,” her stepmother “Mary Doe, and her father “James Doe,” proceeded with the civil suit and filed an amended complaint Sept. 8.
On Sept. 10, Judge Johnson asked for clear identification of how each person represented fits into the claims “and provide a reason why Jane Doe is moving through her stepmother and father rather than bringing the claims herself, as she is not a minor.”
That must be submitted by Sept. 17, he ordered.
As before, the amended complaint names then Sublette County School District No. 9 Superintendent and Title IX Coordinator Steve Loyd, Big Piney High School Principal Jeff Makelky, the board of trustees and “John Smiths 1-5” as defendants.
It outlines four claims for relief, each seeking compensatory and punitive damages at a six-person jury trial.
It sets out a timeline of gradually increasing sexual attentions paid by a former teacher to a former student starting September 2014 and continuing through late 2016 or early 2017. It alleges that Big Piney school officials accepted federal funding but did not protect a student’s rights as required under Title IX.
It also alleges that Loyd and Makelky failed to initiate and follow through proper training about sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, Title IX investigations, employee misconduct, students’ rights or preventing “the hostile educational environment.”
Big Piney officials also failed to identify, investigate, report, document, respond to or mediate “continued harassment and sexual assault by SCSD employees and teachers like the employee and teacher that continued to harass and assault (Jane Doe) even after his illegal and improper behavior was reported,” it says.
The teacher in question is identified as “a history teacher at Big Piney High School … also connected to Principal Jeff Makelky.” The original complaint described him as “also the son of (high school) principal Jeff Makelky at Sublette County School District 9,” according to court records.
Another teacher had told Mary and James Doe “he believed the teacher was having an inappropriate relationship with Jane Doe based on behavior he had witnessed,” it says. Her father contacted Makelky, who “denied the existence of an inappropriate relationship between the teacher and Jane Doe” and removed her from the reporting teacher’s classroom “without permission or consultation,” it says.
As superintendent and Title IX coordinator, Loyd agreed to “investigate the situation … and said he had seen no evidence to support their claims and their concerns were unfounded,” it says.
No one told the family of their Title IX rights or that officials “had an obligation to perform an independent investigation into the sexual assaults and sexual harassment and take reasonable steps to ensure Jane Doe had equal access to education at SCSD and BPHS,” it says.
They failed to comply with the district’s own “inequitable and inadequate” written policies dealing with sexual harassment and had “mandatory reporting duties” to report “illegal conduct to law enforcement,” which they did not do, it says.
The district officials’ “showed deliberate indifference” and deprived the student of educational opportunities ensured under Title IX by allowing a “hostile educational environment,” it says.
“… Its inaction caused (her) harasser and attacker to become emboldened and increase his harassment, sexual conduct and own retaliation toward (her),” it says.
“Retaliation in violation of Title IX” is the second claim, saying school officials had a duty to stop “ongoing retaliatory harassment” from administrators, employees and community members after the student reported the incidents, it says.
They are obligated to “mitigate its effects” but “inaction and unreasonable action” negatively affected her schooling, education and earning capacity, it says.
“Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that can violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” the suit claims. Title IX “provides clear civil rights” and “imposes a binding mandatory obligation on federal funding recipients like SCSD, prohibiting from discriminating against students on the basis of sex,” it adds.
The district “deliberately adopted inadequate” customs and policies that can deprive all students of due process rights and equal protection, not just Jane Doe, it says.
“(School officials) engaged in a policy, pattern and practice of behavior designed to discourage and dissuade female students and their families who have been sexually assaulted and harassed from seeking protection and help from SCSD,” it continues.
Also, school officials have known “that employees will confront sexual harassment of students and abuse with regularity, given the high predictably, recurrence and prevalence of teacher sexual harassment and abuse in schools,” it says.
“It was foreseen” those could happen at Big Piney and the district did not protect Jane Doe’s federal and constitutional rights even though it accepts “hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal educational funding each year and in turn promises to comply with corresponding Title IX obligation,” it says.
Calling the Big Piney officials’ actions “reckless and callous,” the suit also seeks punitive damages “to make an example of conduct that will not be tolerated.”