In a case involving the murder of a student on campus by a visiting boyfriend, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that an institution may be liable under Title IX for its failure to address apparent harassment by a non-student visitor. While acknowledging that no prior court had extended the scope of Title IX liability to include the actions of a student’s visiting guest, the Third Circuit, in Hall v. Millersville University, held that institutions that “act with deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment” may be held liable even if the harasser is “a third-party.”
The alleged harasser in the matter was the boyfriend of a Millersville University student who was repeatedly invited to stay in the dorm and has now been criminally convicted of murder. On at least one occasion prior to the student’s death, the visiting boyfriend had to be forcibly removed from the dorm and the campus, after engaging in violent behavior.
Key to the case was the question of whether the institution had sufficient notice that it could be held liable for deliberate indifference toward known harassment committed by a student’s invited guest. The court reasoned that existing precedent has recognized the applicability of Title IX protections to third-party actions. It further recognized that Millersville’s own Title IX campus policy stated that it applied to “conduct of employees, students, visitors/third-parties, and applicants.”
The court additionally found that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding the university’s ability to exercise “substantial control” over the campus guest, even though he was not subject to institutional disciplinary processes. In this case, the court recognized that the institution had exercised control over the visitor when it removed him from the campus.
This case serves to underscore not only the broad limits of Title IX, but also the importance for academic institutions to review their own campus policies. If your campus needs assistance in conducting such a review, contact the Steptoe & Johnson Higher Education Team.