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Doe v. Bradshaw

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 26, 2016

JILL DOE, Plaintiff



         Table of Contents

         I. BACKGROUND ............................................... 2

         A. Factual Background ..................................... 2

         1. Events Relating to Constitutional and Tort Claims .. 4

         2. Events Relating to Rehabilitation and Disability Claims ............................................. 9

         B. Procedural History .................................... 10

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW ....................................... 12

         III. ANALYSIS ................................................. 13

         A. Sexual Abuse Claims ................................... 13

         1. Count I: Due Process Claim against Employee-Defendants ........................................ 13

         2. Count IV: Equal Protection, Employee-Defendants ... 21

         3. Counts II & V: Fourteenth Amendment Claims against the Town .......................................... 23

         4. Count X: Title IX ................................. 30

         5. Count XII: Negligence ............................. 34

         6. Count XIV: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress .................................................. 38

         7. Count XVI: Right to Freedom from Sexual Harassment 40

         B. Rehabilitation and Disability Claims .................. 45

         IV. CONCLUSION ............................................... 49

         This case concerns the response of the Mashpee School Department to acts of sexual abuse committed by one of its employees against one of its students. The Plaintiff contends that the Town of Mashpee, the Mashpee School Committee, and various Mashpee school officials failed to protect her from the employee and then failed to provide her the special education services she needed as a result of his abuse. Plaintiff's surviving claims[1] arise under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“section 504”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title IX, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, state sexual harassment statutes, and state common law. Before me are motions for summary judgment filed by the Plaintiff [Dkt. Nos. 110 & 113] and by the Town, School Committee and individual defendants [Dkt. No. 112].

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Evidence in the summary judgment record would support the following:

In the fall of 2008, Stephen Weixler, a school paraprofessional and soccer coach, sexually abused Mashpee student Jill Doe, one of the team members he coached. In November 2008, Weixler picked Jill up from her home, took her to a secluded location, and sexually assaulted her. It is contested whether in October 2008 Weixler also drove Jill home from soccer practice and, in the car, inappropriately touched her leg. The evidence provides a basis for concluding that meanwhile, both before and after his assaults on Jill, Weixler engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with other students, some reports of which were relayed to school administrators.

         During this time period, defendant Ann Bradshaw was the superintendent of the Mashpee School Department. Defendant Alan Winrow was the principal of Mashpee High School beginning in the summer of 2008; before then, Lou Ann St. Cyr, who is not a defendant, was principal. Defendant Jane Day was the assistant principal at Mashpee High School during the relevant period.

         The events relevant to Jill's claims fall in two basic categories: those corresponding to Jill's constitutional, tort, and sexual harassment claims and those corresponding to her claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The first category primarily involves the period before March 9, 2009, when school officials first learned of actual sexual abuse of Jill. This category concerns the defendants' responsibility to prevent such an assault upon her and to prevent her subsequent sexual harassment. The second category concerns the defendants' responsibility to provide Jill with different educational resources in response to the trauma of her abuse.

         1. Events Relating to Constitutional and Tort Claims

         Stephen Weixler was hired by the Mashpee schools in August 2005, working as a paraprofessional in an elementary school. For the 2007-2008 school year, he was transferred to the middle school. In the summer of 2008, Weixler was hired to serve as the junior varsity soccer coach. After the hiring process worked its way from the athletic department up through the school administration, Weixler's hire was either announced or approved at a school committee meeting on October 1, 2008. Also in the summer of 2008, Mashpee High School Principal Lou Ann St. Cyr was replaced as principal by Defendant Winrow.

         During this time, some number of reports emerged about Weixler acting inappropriately with students; the parties and the witnesses, however, disagree about what was reported when. First, in September of 2007, School Committee Member Kathy Stanley may have received a report that Weixler was providing alcohol to minors, possibly students. Although Stanley was unable to recall most details of this report, Stanley remembered telling School Committee Chair Mary Rose Grady, whom Stanley testified then informed Superintendent Bradshaw. However, Grady did not recall these events taking place. Additionally, Weixler testified that he had never purchased alcohol for students prior to beginning as soccer coach in 2008.

         Second, Weixler recalls that in the fall of 2007, an art teacher made a report of her concerns that Weixler, who was working with one of her students, and Student 1, who was working as a student intern in her class, were in an inappropriate relationship. Weixler further testified that based on this report, he was called into a meeting with the school administration, possibly with Principal St. Cyr. However, both art teachers then employed at Mashpee High School have stated that they never observed Weixler engaged in inappropriate conduct or reported him having done so. St. Cyr does not recall holding such a meeting. Accordingly, there is no testimony regarding which other administrators apart from St. Cyr heard of this report, if it occurred.

         The third set of reports came in February 2008. School Committee Chair Mary Rose Grady was asked by a student why it was okay for Weixler to date a student, the student saying that “everybody knows” he was doing so. Grady relayed this information to Superintendent Bradshaw. Bradshaw asked then-principal St. Cyr to conduct an investigation, and St. Cyr further delegated the task to Stephen Babbitt. These basic facts about the events of February 2008 are not disputed, although the details are.

         Whether Babbitt's investigation of this report was rigorous, or consisted merely of informal conversations, is contested. Evidence of record can be viewed to suggest that Babbitt's investigation was cursory. He testified that he was asked only to have a short conversation, not “to perform an investigation”; when he e-mailed St. Cyr to say that he had spoken with Weixler, he noted only that Weixler's “response was that it was ‘non sense and ridiculous'”; and Babbitt based his finding that there was “nothing there” based on “body language” and “tone of voice.” Bradshaw testified that, through Principal St. Cyr, she pushed back on Babbitt's preliminary investigation and asked for a second conversation. However, neither Babbitt nor St. Cyr could remember such a push-back or second conversation having occurred. For his part, Weixler does not remember any conversation with Babbitt at all.

         Plaintiff contends that Bradshaw received up to two separate reports that Weixler was dating Student 1 during this same month. In roughly the same time period, Bradshaw came to be aware that the previously-unknown student who was allegedly dating Weixler was Student 1. The new information of the student's name could be taken to indicate an additional source of information in addition to the report from Grady. When Bradshaw recounted how the rumor about Weixler and Student 1 was relayed to her, she could not remember who had told her but thought that “it might have been a parent.” Plaintiff contends that the report from a parent must have been different than the report from the School Committee Chair. Defendants contend that these are slightly different accounts of a single event.

         A fourth potential report came in the spring of 2008, when Principal St. Cyr may have engaged in her own investigation of Weixler. St. Cyr testified that at some point during that school year, she asked both Student 1 and Student 1's parents whether she was dating Weixler; St. Cyr says both daughter and parents denied any such relationship. Student 1, however, testified that no such conversations with St. Cyr ever occurred. Another student, Student 7, testified that in the spring of 2008, she was called in to St. Cyr's office to discuss whether Weixler was dating a student and that she told St. Cyr that he was. Thus, it is disputed whether St. Cyr conducted her own investigation of Weixler and when she did so; there is also no indication on the record of precisely what prompted St. Cyr to investigate or who in the administration she discussed her investigation with.

         By the time that Weixler was hired as soccer coach, therefore, Ann Bradshaw and members of the school committee had received at least one report of misconduct by Weixler: the February 2008 report from Mary Rose Grady. There is sufficient evidence in the record to show that at least some investigation of that report had taken place; what kind of investigation was undertaken, however, is contested. It is contested whether there were two reports prior to February 2008, whether there were additional sources of information in February 2008 besides Grady, and whether St. Cyr was continuing to investigate Weixler in the spring of 2008.

         Throughout the fall of 2008, Weixler allegedly engaged in a substantial amount of inappropriate behavior with multiple students, including sexual relations, graphic text messages, inappropriate comments, and the related purchase of alcohol. He may have also continued to harass Jill, including in the school hallways. However, Weixler's inappropriate behavior was not again brought to the attention of school administrators until January 9, 2009, when a staff member of the Mashpee Boys & Girls Club reported to Winrow and Day that he had heard students discuss Weixler's inappropriate relationship with a student. Winrow and Day reported this to Bradshaw, who instructed them to investigate the matter. The following school day, Winrow and Day interviewed three students, and possibly an additional staff member. Their investigation ultimately cleared Weixler and no disciplinary action was taken.

         Finally, on March 6, 2009, two gym teachers relayed to Assistant Principal Day a student report that Weixler was engaged in sexual relations with one student and was explicitly texting a different student. An investigation began immediately thereafter. Jill's abuse was reported to the school for the first time on or about Monday, March 9. A different coach, who was a friend of Jill's father, informed the administration that something inappropriate had happened between Jill and Weixler.

         Weixler was sent home on March 9 and placed on leave on March 10.

         The police were called on March 12, when the school learned the details of Jill's sexual assault. That December, Weixler pled guilty to one count of indecent assault and battery of a minor, two counts of buying alcohol for a minor, and one count of sending inappropriate materials to a minor.

         2. Events Relating to Rehabilitation and Disability Claims

         The facts of the school's educational response to Jill's sexual abuse are comparatively clearer. Jill suffered severe trauma as a result of her sexual abuse. Her grades fell dramatically, as did her attendance, although the details of her academic decline are contested. She also developed new anger issues. In December 2008, Jill was enrolled in a school-run anger management class. Beginning in March 2009, Jill was also provided rape counseling outside the school. During this period, Jill's mother requested educational accommodations for Jill, some of which were denied because Jill was not a special education student. However, Jill's mother did not specifically request testing for special education services because she was not aware of her right to do so.

         On January 18, 2010, Jill was admitted to Falmouth Hospital after attacking a stranger in a convenience store for “looking at her;” she had previously made more than one attempt to cut her wrists. On January 21, she was admitted to a Community Based Acute Treatment Unit, where she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorder NOS, R/O bipolar disorder, and poly-substance abuse. She returned to Mashpee High School on February 3, 2010, after being discharged, but she continued to have difficulty. On ...

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