En banc appeals court allows Title IX suit by student assaulted off campus, cites prior violence reports
A University of Arizona student who was physically assaulted by a football player in off-campus housing may sue for an alleged Title IX violation, an en banc federal appeals court ruled 8-3 Monday.
The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco ruled that Mackenzie Brown could sue for the off-campus assaults because of evidence that the university was “deliberately indifferent” to prior reports of abuse by two other students.
In addition, the evidence suggested that the university had control over the off-campus housing because it had the power to revoke the football player’s permission to live there, the 9th Circuit said.
The football player, Orlando Bradford, pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault and domestic violence for his attacks on Brown and one of the prior students. He was sentenced to five years in prison in November 2017.
Brown alleged that Bradford had assaulted her between four and 10 times in 2016, and the final two assaults were extremely violent.
In one of the two incidents, Brown alleged, Bradford hit her head on the cupboard, dragged her by her hair to the stairs, choked her on the staircase, and continued to hit her after taking her to his room. When she was beaten in a second incident, she went to a doctor who noted burst blood vessels in her eye; a likely concussion; neck pain from strangulation, hitting and kicking; “intractable acute post-traumatic headache;” and bruising.
Looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to Brown, the appeals court said, a fact-finder could conclude that:
• The university had substantial control over the off-campus housing where Bradford lived because his permission to live there was conditioned on good behavior. In addition, the university’s code of conduct applied on campus and off campus, and the university had conduct rules that were specific to football players.
• A softball coach who was also a deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics had actual knowledge of Bradford’s assaults on two prior women the previous year. One of the prior women obtained an order of protection against Bradford. But the university’s athletic director and Bradford’s football coaches were not told of the assaults.
• The university was “deliberately indifferent” to the abuse because the softball coach’s response to the prior reports of assaults was unreasonable.
Alexandra Brodsky, a staff attorney at Public Justice, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization, said in a statement issued Monday the 9th Circuit’s decision is “a sweeping victory for student survivors across the country.”
“Gender violence has grave effects on students’ access to education. For that reason, the civil rights law Title IX requires schools to address known abuse. And as the 9th Circuit explained today, a school’s power to stop violence—and its responsibility to do so—doesn’t stop at the campus boundary,” Brodsky said.