SUBLETTE COUNTY – The civil rights lawsuit filed against Sublette County School District No. 9 and Big Piney school officials by anonymous parties “Jane, James and Mary Doe” is set for trial starting Jan. 9, 2023.
The lawsuit, filed May 26 in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court, alleges a teacher’s sexual abuse and officials’ sexual harassment of and retaliation to Jane Doe, a former Big Piney student, violating her federal and civil rights under Title IX.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson first ordered their proper names to be disclosed and then ruled they could continue the lawsuit anonymously to protect their privacy. The family alleges that from 2014 into 2017, a former Big Piney world history teacher paid inappropriate sexual attentions to Jane Doe and officials did not properly investigate or try to remedy the “effects of (the teacher’s) sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
“This is a federal civil rights case brought by plaintiff Jane Doe, a former student in (SCSD 9) in Big Piney, Wyoming, and her parents,” the complaint begins. “Plaintiff was sexually harassed and assaulted by an employee of SCSD, and when her parents reported and asked for help, all three were subjected to severe harassment and retaliation after reporting sexual harassment and assaults by an employee of SCSD.”
The suit seeks a jury trial and damages. In response, Big Piney administrators denied any and all wrongdoing and also requested a jury trial. Judge Johnson ordered Jane Doe’s attorney Andrea Richard and the school district’s attorney Tracy Kopenhaver to prepare a joint case management plan for the initial pretrial conference on Nov. 18.
Via teleconference Thursday, Judge Johnson discussed timing of motions, expert witness designations and other trial details. No hearings or deadlines are scheduled before April 2022.
He asked Richard if Jane Doe, now living in Idaho, was continuing her education and counseling and would be prepared to move forward. Richard said Jane Doe is currently taking and teaching college classes and has a very good connection with her therapist.
The judge also discussed public-health courtroom precautions taken during recent jury trials.
“I can’t predict what our situation will be in regard to the pandemic,” he said. Both attorneys said his schedule worked for them at this time.
Kopenhaver said he “never understood” why Jane, James and Mary Doe are using pseudonyms – “Sometimes it’s a little confusing. … It’s been four years.”
Judge Johnson said,” It’s a matter that’s sensitive” and with a lot of public interest.
Kopenhaver said his “biggest concern” is that going through documents, “names are going to get used. I don’t want to violate any rule out there if an actual name gets used.”
Richard said, “The court did raise the issue early on and we complied with the court’s order. These things happened when she was a minor.”
Nov. 18, Judge Johnson posted his initial pretrial order schedule for expert witness designation, discovery, motion filing and response and the joint pretrial memorandum, due Oct. 21, 2022. After another round of motions in limine, the final pretrial conference is Dec. 9, 2022, and the five-day jury trial will begin Jan. 9, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. before Judge Johnson in the Cheyenne U.S. District Court.