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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Shies From Ruling on School Harassment

WASHINGTON -- In a setback for women's rights leaders, the Supreme Court on Monday let stand a Texas ruling that shields school districts from being sued for failing to halt the sexual harassment of one student by another.

The court's refusal to intervene in the Texas case leaves the law in flux in the fast-evolving area of sexual harassment at school.

Over the past decade, the court has made clear that companies can be sued and forced to pay damages if they fail to protect female employees from "severe and pervasive" sexual harassment on the job.

Recently, some judges have begun to apply the same rule to schools. In July, for example, three federal trial judges cleared the way for trials on damage claims against school districts growing out of the sexual harassment of girls in junior high schools.

In each instance, the girls said they had been repeatedly grabbed, taunted and humiliated by one or several boys in hallways or on school buses. Though they and their parents complained for months, nothing was done to end the harassment.

Tuesday's ruling by the Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit brought by Debra Rowinsky, the mother of two eighth-grade girls from Bryan, Texas. Her legal complaint said her daughters had been "physically and verbally abused'' on the bus by a few boys who grabbed their breasts, pulled at their skirts and called them names such as "whore'' and "bitch.''

Lawyers for the Clinton administration, the NOW Legal Defense Fund and the National Women's Law Center urged the justices to hear an appeal and make clear that school officials could be held liable for the gross sexual harassment of students by other students.

But without comment, the justices turned away the appeal in Rowinsky vs. Bryan Independent School District.

"We'll just keep litigating the issue. If women in the workplace should not have to endure sexual harassment, why should young girls have to endure it at school,'' said Julie Goldscheid, a NOW Legal Defense Fund lawyer in New York.

She predicted the Supreme Court would take on the issue after another appeals court weighed in on the matter.