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Poloceno v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist.

Poloceno v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 20-10098, 2020 WL 5494511 (5th Cir. 2020)

Summary of procedural history:

Plaintiff, the parent of A.I., an eleven-year-old student in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), filed suit alleging DISD subjected A.I. to intentional discrimination based upon her sex in violation of Title IX. The District Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s second amended complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff appealed to the Fifth Circuit which affirmed the District Court’s ruling.

Summary of facts:

A.I.’s physical education teacher required both male and female students to do “ceiling jumps”1 as punishment when they did not wear the proper gym clothes to class. The number of ceiling jumps started at 30 and increased as the year progressed. Plaintiff alleged that during the school year, the principal observed male and female students performing ceiling jumps in this class and five female students visited the school nurse complaining of pain due to performing the ceiling jumps. Later that year, A.I. came to class without the proper clothing and was required to do 260 ceiling jumps which resulted in her injury. DISD subsequently investigated and found the teacher had violated DISD policies relative to student discipline, corporal punishment, and student welfare/wellness.

Summary of significance:

The court noted the facts alleged by the Plaintiff indicated that male and female students were subjected to the same treatment in the gym class and that the Plaintiff was unable to show any discriminatory motive for the conduct.2 However, Plaintiff alleged the punishment had a disparate impact on female students in the class. In affirming the District Court’s dismissal, the Fifth Circuit found that schools are only liable under Title IX for intentional discrimination and that there is no private right of action for disparate impact claims under Title IX.3 The Court relied upon Alexander v Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001), which found that there is no private right of action for disparate impact claims under Title VII, to broaden this premise to Title IX.4 The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s heightened risk argument finding it was simply a disparate impact argument5 and noted the Plaintiff did not plead sufficient facts to show DISD had actual knowledge or was deliberately indifferent as the principal did not have actual knowledge and the school did investigate and find the teacher in violation of DISD policy.

Key take-aways:

  • Although courts may not entertain a claim for disparate impact under Title IX, government agencies may take a different approach in their enforcement actions. As such, schools should take action to stop, prevent, and remedy any sex/gender-based disparate impacts identified within educational programs and activities that result from the implementation of a neutral policy/practice.
  • The court noted that the school principal was the “appropriate person” within DISD who had the authority to take corrective action to end the discrimination and as such, who needed to have actual knowledge of the alleged discrimination in order for the school to be liable for a private right of action under Title IX.
  • It is important for schools to distinguish this from the broader OCR administrative enforcement standard that was recently created under the amended Title IX regulations which provides that actual knowledge includes notice to any elementary or secondary school employee.

1 A “ceiling jump” was described as the students being required to squat down, with both hands and hips towards the floor, then jump up with their hands towards the ceiling.
2 Poloceno v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 20-10098, 2020 WL 5494511 at ⁋ 2 (5th Cir. 2020).
3 Id.
4 Id at ⁋ 3.
5 Id.

Keywords: Title IX, intentional discrimination, disparate treatment, disparate impact, heightened risk, K-12