Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School District United States District Court for the Southern District of California (2009)

Gender discrimination

Plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against Sweetwater Union School District (the “District”) and several individuals, alleging unequal participation opportunities for females at Castle Park High School (“CPHS”).  Plaintiffs argued that Defendants violated Title IX’s provision that prohibits excluding or discriminating against anyone on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.  The court applied a three-part test to determine whether the District complied with Title IX which included: (1) substantially proportionate athletic opportunities for females; (2) continuing practice of program expansion for females; and (3) the accommodation of females’ interest and abilities.  First, the court held that Defendants failed to provide females with substantially proportionate opportunities to participate in athletics, as the number of female students denied the opportunity to participate could have sustained several viable competitive teams.  Second, the court held that there was no steady increase in female athletic participation.  Even though, as Defendants argued, athletic programs for girls had expanded over the past decade and CPHS had two more teams for girls than for boys, the number of female participants, not the number of teams, determined whether programs had expanded.  Third, the court held that Plaintiffs demonstrated evidence of unmet interest and of the ability of CPHS females to participate in field hockey, tennis, and water polo.  Defendants’ argument that they could not obtain coaches for the teams was not a valid excuse.  The court held that Defendants allowed significant gender-based disparity in violation of Title IX and found for Plaintiffs on their claim of unequal participation opportunities for females.



U.S. v. Gardner United States District Court for the Northern District of California (2007)

Trafficking in persons

A grand jury indicted Defendant Gardner (“Defendant”) for alleged participation in a conspiracy to engage in the sex trafficking of a 17-year-old minor female. Defendant was allegedly involved in transporting the minor, collecting money from the minor, and housing the minor between prostitution calls. At Defendant’s detention hearing, the judge released Defendant subject to a bond and other conditions, including a curfew. Several weeks after Defendant’s release, the government sought to impose electronic monitoring as an additional condition of release and as mandated by the Adam Walsh Child and Protection Safety Act of 2006 (“the Act”). The electronic monitoring would immediately alert law enforcement if Defendant violated her curfew. Defense counsel argued that the electronic monitoring violated the Eighth Amendment, procedural due process, and the doctrine of separation of powers. The court disagreed and held that the electronic monitoring was constitutional on all three grounds. Moreover, the court concluded that the electronic monitoring furthered this interest in a way that was not excessive when compared to the risk of post-arrest criminal activity. The court noted that the Act served the valid government interest of providing additional protection for children “from sexual attacks and other violent crimes.” Decision on file with the Avon Global Center.



Ericson v. Syracuse Univ. United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (1999)

Sexual harassment

Ms. Ericson and Ms. Kornechuk brought an action against Syracuse University and its employees under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. section 1681 (“Title IX”) and the Violence Against Women Act, 42 U.S.C. section 13981 (“VAWA”). Plaintiffs alleged that they were sexually harassed by their tennis coach, and that the University was aware of the tennis coach’s behavior and conducted a sham investigatory proceeding to conceal the extent of the tennis coach’s misconduct, which had occurred for more than twenty years. Defendants moved to dismiss the claims. They contended that Title IX did not provide a private right of action and the VAWA claim was barred by the statue of limitations. The court held that there was a private right of action under Title IX pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist. (1998). Erickson held that a student who has been sexually harassed by an employee of an institution may bring suit against the institution, under Title IX, for private damages if: (1) the institution has authority to institute corrective measures on its behalf; (2) has actual notice of the behavior; and (3) is deliberately indifferent to its employee’s misconduct. The court found that Plaintiffs’ complaint, on its face, satisfied that standard because it alleged the individuals who investigated the charges against the tennis coach not only had actual notice that the tennis coach had been harassing female student-athletes for twenty years but had also conspired to conduct a sham investigation to conceal the full extent of the coach’s misconduct. The court reasoned that the allegation that the institution knew of the 13 of female-athletes and did not respond adequately was sufficient to state a claim under Title IX. The court also held that the statute of limitations did not bar the Plaintiffs’ claim under the VAWA. VAWA provides a civil cause of action to victims of gender-motivated crimes of violence. It does not contain an express statute of limitations. Accordingly, the court found that it should look to the “most appropriate or analogous state statute of limitations.” The court reasoned that Congress’ stated purpose, in enacting this law, was to “protect the civil rights of victims of gender motivated violence by establishing a federal civil rights cause of action.” Because of Congress’ stated purpose, the court found that the cause of action that was most analogous to VAWA was a personal injury claim, and as such, a three-year statute of limitations should apply. Thus, Plaintiffs’ claim under VAWA was not barred by the statue of limitations because the alleged acts of violence occurred within three years from when Plaintiffs filed their complaint.



Melani v. Bd. of Higher Educ., United States United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (1983)

Gender discrimination

Plaintiffs sued the board of trustees of the City University of New York (“CUNY”), alleging that CUNY discriminated against its female professors because it paid them less than its male professors, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. section 2000e (“Title VII”). As evidence, Plaintiffs provided statistics about the faculty’s pay that demonstrated that the female professors were paid less. Defendant argued in response that the female staff were paid less based on merit, specifically because women devoted more time to child-rearing, had fewer publications, and worked in academic fields for which the market demand was less. The court found that Defendant failed to successfully counter Plaintiffs’ claim because its testimony was little more than generalizations: its evidence did not relate to the CUNY female faculty and did not explain the salary disparity between the male and female faculty. Thus, the court found that Defendant violated Title VII by paying Plaintiffs a lower salary because of their sex.



Dittrich v. Woods United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2011)

Sexual violence and rape

Thomas Dittrich was accused of having a three-month relationship with his daughter’s thirteen-year-old classmate, the Complaintant. The relationship began when the Complaintant went to Dittrich’s house to visit his daughter, and quickly progressed into a mutual intimate relationship. When the Complaintant’s parents uncovered the relationship, they immediately intervened and a criminal suit was filed against Dittrich. At trial, Dittrich’s family, the Complaintant, and other third parties testified about his conduct with Complaintant. Dittrich’s family recounted his history of domestic violence, to which Dittrich’s attorney did not object. Dittrich also tried to examine Complaintant about her sexual history, but could not overcome Michigan’s rape shield law by offering proof as to his proposed evidence. The jury convicted Dittrich on seven counts of criminal sexual conduct, sentencing him to 95-180 months’ imprisonment. Dittrich appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and then to the Michigan Supreme Court, on claims that (1) he was denied effective counsel due to his attorney’s failure to object to his family’s domestic violence testimony, and (2) the court, by denying his motion to examine Complaintant about her sexual history, violated his right to confrontation. Both courts denied relief. In 2007, Dittrich petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging both ineffective assistance of counsel and a violation of his confrontation right. The district court granted the writ, holding the confrontation violation was harmless, but Dittrich did receive ineffective assistance of counsel. The state appealed that decision and Dittrich cross-appealed on the confrontation claim. The Sixth Circuit reasoned that to prove ineffective assistance of counsel, one must demonstrate that counsel’s performance was deficient, and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Although the court found that Dittrich’s counsel’s performance was deficient, they ruled that the deficiency did not prejudice the defense due to the overwhelming evidence against Dittrich. As to the confrontation claim, the court reviewed Dittrich’s request based on whether the error had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict. The court held that Dittrich’s proposed inquiries into the Complaintant’s sexual history would have been of minimal value. Thus, the court’s decision to exclude the evidence did not have a “substantial and injurious effect” on the jury’s verdict. The court reversed the district court’s grant of habeas relief on Dittrich’s ineffective-assistance claim and affirmed its rejection of his right-to-confrontation claim.



Perdomo v. Holder United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (2010)

Femicide

In 1991 Lesly Yajayra Perdomo (“Perdomo”), a citizen and native of Guatemala, joined her mother in the United States. In April 2003 the Immigration and Naturalization Service charged her as removable because she unlawfully entered the United States in 1991. Perdomo conceded removability but requested asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Perdomo sought asylum because of her fear of future persecution as a member of a particular social group of “women in Guatemala between the ages of fourteen and forty.” Perdomo explained she was fearful because of: (1) the large number of women killed in Guatemala; (2) the failure of the Guatemalan government to respond appropriately; and (3) the lack of explanation for the killings. The immigration judge denied Perdomo’s requests. The Board of Immigration Appeals (the “BIA”) affirmed the denials and rejected the particular social group definition, “women in Guatemala between the ages of fourteen and forty” and Perdomo’s revised group definition, “all women in Guatemala,” as too broad to qualify for protection. The Ninth Circuit granted Perdomo’s petition for review and held that prior case law established that, “women in a particular country, regardless of ethnicity or clan membership, could form a particular social group.” The court noted that the size and breadth of the group, “all women in Guatemala,” did not preclude it from qualifying as a protected social group and that the BIA erred when it held to the contrary. The court remanded the case to the BIA to determine whether “all women in Guatemala” is a particular social group and, if so, whether Perdomo qualified for asylum.



Hollander v. United States United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2009)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

A group of husbands filed suit against the United States and other U.S. officials, challenging the validity of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In particular, they were challenging the portion that permitted aliens who had been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by their spouses to self-petition for legal permanent resident status. The plaintiffs claimed this created an incentive for their wives and ex-wives to file false police complaints and false applications for temporary restraining orders against them. They further argued that their reputations were harmed and that confidential information about them was being released to third parties. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed their suit for lack of standing. Accordingly, the plaintiffs could not challenge VAWA or its self-petition provision. On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that the plaintiffs’ injury was not fairly traceable to the defendants, but rather to independent actions of their wives or ex-wives who were not before the court. The plaintiffs further failed to state an injury-in-fact, because their claimed injuries were purely speculative. The fear of disclosing confidential information to third parties was dispelled based on the confidentiality provisions of VAWA. Thus, the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue the government and challenge VAWA.



Abankwah v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv. United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (1999)

Harmful traditional practices

Ms. Abankwah, a native of Ghana, was a member of a tribe that punishes women who engage in premarital sex with female genital mutilation (“FGM”). While Ms. Abankwah was away from her tribe, she had a sexual relationship. Subsequently, she learned that she would be the next Queen Mother of her tribe, a position that requires a woman to remain a virgin until marriage. She knew this meant the tribe would discover she had engaged in premarital sex and she would be punished with FGM. Ms. Abankwah fled but her tribe came after her. She decided it was unsafe for her to remain in Ghana and purchased a falsified Ghanaian passport and U.S. visa and fled to the United States. Immigration authorities arrested Ms. Abankwah when she arrived in the United States and commenced deportation proceedings against her. Ms. Abankwah sought to remain in the United States by seeking asylum. To obtain asylum, she needed to establish, among other requirements, that she was unable or unwilling to return to her native country because of a “well-founded” fear of persecution, pursuant to section 208(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. section 1158(a). Ms. Abankwah explained that she feared returning to Ghana because, if she did, her tribe would perform FGM on her. The immigration court denied her petition for asylum because it concluded that her fear of FGM was not objectively reasonable. On appeal, however, the court found that Ms. Abankwah was a credible witness and her fear was objectively reasonable because it was “based on her knowledge of and experience with customs of her tribe.” As such, Ms. Abankwah was granted asylum and allowed to stay in the United States.



Doe v. Penzato United States District Court for the Northern District of California (2011)

Sexual violence and rape, Trafficking in persons

Plaintiff Jane Doe (“Doe”) filed a lawsuit under a pseudonym and alleged 23 causes of action including human trafficking, sexual battery, forced labor and involuntary servitude against Defendants Mr. and Mrs. Penzato. Mrs. Penzato had offered Doe $1,500 per month, free room and board, and transportation to the United States in exchange for child care and housekeeping services. Doe accepted the offer and moved to San Francisco, California. Doe alleged that during her employment Defendants physically assaulted her, sexually molested her, threatened her with cancellation of her visa, and abused or exploited her in various other ways. She eventually left the Penzatos’ household and moved to a transitional housing residence for female victims of violence. Doe filed a motion for a protective order and requested permission to proceed with the lawsuit under a pseudonym. Doe argued that this was necessary to avoid additional psychological trauma due to the sensitive and personal nature of her claims. Further, she argued that the use of a pseudonym would help maintain the safety and anonymity of her fellow transitional housing residents. Defendants argued that because they were publically accused of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and forced labor, Doe should also be publicly exposed. Defendants also argued that they would be prejudiced by the extra effort they would have to take to keep her identity a secret. The court granted Doe’s motion and allowed her to proceed under a pseudonym, holding that Doe’s need to remain anonymous outweighed Defendants’ arguments and the public’s interest in knowing her identity. The court noted the strong interest in protecting sexual assault victims’ identities—to encourage them to report the assaults without fear of being stigmatized as a sexual assault victim.



U.S. v. Dowd United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (2005)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

A jury convicted Matthew Dowd of violating the federal interstate domestic violence law. The events giving rise to the conviction occurred over an 8-month period between May and December 2002. During that time, Dowd forced his former girlfriend, Danna Johnson, to travel throughout Montana, Colorado, and Utah with him while he was fleeing authorities. During the forced excursion, Dowd repeatedly subjected Ms. Johnson to physical and psychological abuse, including rape, choking, and death threats. Dowd contested the conviction, arguing that the jury did not have sufficient evidence that he forced or coerced Ms. Johnson to cross state lines, as the statute required. The court reasoned that to convict a defendant of violating the federal interstate domestic violence statute by causing a spouse or intimate partner to travel in interstate or foreign commerce by force, coercion, duress, or fraud, the government must show that the spouse or intimate partner was a non-consenting participant in the interstate travel. Despite evidence that there were various occasions during the several-months-long interstate journey where Ms. Johnson was outside of Dowd’s presence and did not seek assistance from others or attempt to escape, the court found that Ms. Johnson was not a willing participant in the extended journey, and that sufficient evidence supported a finding that Dowd violated the federal statute. That evidence included Dowd’s persistent actual and threatened physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, and threats of retribution against Ms. Johnson’s family if she left him. Accordingly, Dowd’s conviction was upheld.



McCormick v. School District of Mamaroneck United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2004)

Gender discrimination

Two school districts scheduled their girls’ high school soccer season in the spring and the boys’ high school soccer in the fall. The effect of that schedule was that boys but not girls were able to compete in the regional and state championship games. Parents of the female students sued the school districts pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 and 20 U.S.C. section 1681 (“Title IX”), which requires schools, among others, to provide equal athletic opportunities to its male and female students. The appellate court held that the schools violated Title IX when they scheduled girls’ soccer in the spring because it denied female students an equal athletic opportunity. The court noted that because the females could not compete in championship games, it implied that the schools did not value their athletic abilities as much as it valued the boys’ athletic abilities, which is illegal.



U.S. v. Rowland United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (2004)

Sexual violence and rape

Rowland was charged in a one-count indictment with possession of a firearm and ammunition after former conviction of a felony. One of the former convictions was sexual battery. The district court determined that the felony of sexual battery under Oklahoma law constituted a crime of violence under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and, as such, could be used to enhance his felon in possession of a firearm sentence. Rowland appealed his conviction, specifically contesting the characterization of his prior conviction for sexual battery as premised upon conduct constituting a crime of violence. On appeal, the circuit court noted that Oklahoma’s sexual battery statute presupposed lack of consent, which implicated serious potential risk of physical injury to another. The court then went on to explain that physical injury need not be a certainty for a crime to pose a serious risk of physical injury; the possibility that a crime may be completed without injury is irrelevant to the determination of whether it constitutes a crime of violence which can be used to increase a base offense level for firearms offense conviction. Under this analysis, the court held that sexual battery, under Oklahoma law, implicates a concomitant serious risk of physical injury, and therefore Rowland’s sexual battery conviction was a “crime of violence” that could be used to enhance his sentence.



Gregory v. Daly United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2001)

Gender discrimination

Plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that when she complained, her employer fired her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Plaintiff argued that her executive director subjected her to sexual ridicule, advances, and intimidation. He also intensified his harassment in response to her complaints, deprived her of work responsibilities, undermined her ability to do her job, and ultimately fired her. The lower court dismissed her case. On appeal, however, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal reversed that decision. It found that Plaintiff could reasonably have found her workplace to be both physically and sexually threatening, based on her allegations about the executive director. It reasoned that the alleged environment could have hurt Plaintiff’s job performance, discouraged her from remaining on the job, or kept her from advancing in her career. Thus, the court concluded, the conduct alleged was contrary to Title VII’s objective of promoting workplace equality. The appeals court also found that Plaintiff could proceed with her case against her employer for retaliation because he fired her after she complained about his behavior.



Griffin v. City of Opa-Locka United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (2001)

Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

A. Griffin was employed as a billing clerk in the City of Opa-Locka’s water department in 1993. Shortly after hiring Griffin, the city hired Earnie Neal as its City Manager. After taking office, Neal immediately began sexually harassing Griffin. He called her derogatory names, aggressively pursued her, and made inappropriate advances. He performed some of these acts in front of the Mayor and City Commissioner. Griffin continually resisted his advances and attempted to go on with her daily routines in fear of being fired. Eventually, Neal raped Griffin in her apartment after insisting he drive her home after an event put on by the city. Griffin waited several months to come forward about the rape, and the lawsuit ensued. Griffin sought damages against the City for 13 and sexual assault under Title VII; the Florida Civil Rights Act; 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state tort law. She also alleged claims against Neal. At trial, a jury found that Neal sexually harassed Griffin, that the harassment was a custom or policy of the City, Neal raped Griffin under color of law, the City was deliberately indifferent in hiring Neal, and found against Neal on all tort claims. The subsequent damage award amounted to $2 million dollars. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court that Neal was acting under the color of law and that 13 was the on-going, accepted practice at the City and that the City Commissioner, Mayor, and other high ranking City officials knew of, ignored, and tolerated 13. But because the record did not establish that the jury below found the City had a custom or policy of allowing rape or that the rape incident was part of the custom or pattern of 13, the court found that the suit lacked all essential aspects of a § 1983 case against the City. As such, the verdict and judgment against the City for rape under § 1983 was vacated. All other charges against the City were affirmed. The $1.5 million dollar verdict against the City was reversed. The City was still found liable for 13 due to the hostile work environment it fostered, as well as deliberate indifference in the hiring of Neal.



Doe v. University of Illinois United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (2000)

Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

Jane Doe attended University High School in Urbana, Illinois. Although University High was a public school, it was affiliated with the University of Illinois, which had the responsibility for overseeing the school’s administration. From January 1993 through May 1994, while a student at University High, Jane was a victim of an ongoing campaign of verbal and physical 13 perpetrated by a group of male students at the school. Doe and her parents complained on numerous occasions to officials of both the high school and the University of Illinois. The school officials suspended a few of the students and transferred one out of Doe’s biology class, but did nothing else to prevent further instances. Some administrators even suggested that it was Doe’s fault. In 1995, Doe and her parents filed suit against the University of Illinois and other individual officials of University High and the University of Illinois, alleging a violation of, among other things, Title IX. The United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois dismissed Doe’s Title IX claim. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit remanded the case, holding that Jane Doe alleged a valid claim under Title IX, and that a Title IX recipient may be held liable for its failure to take prompt, appropriate action in response to student-on-student 13, as was the case here. The court reasoned that Title IX prohibits discriminatory government conduct on the basis of sex when it occurs in the context of State-run, federally funded educational programs and institutions. In particular, Title IX provides that no person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Prior to this case, it was well settled that 13 of a student in a federally funded educational program or activity, if it is perpetrated by a teacher or other employee of the funding recipient, can render the recipient liable for damages under Title IX. What was less clear was whether a school can be liable for failing to take prompt, appropriate action to remedy known 13 of one student by other students. Although inconsistent with three other circuits, the court ultimately held that a Title IX fund recipient may be held liable for its failure to take prompt, appropriate action in response to student-on-student 13 that takes place while students are involved in school activities or otherwise under the supervision of school employees, provided the recipient’s responsible officials actually knew that the harassment was taking place. The failure to promptly take appropriate steps in response to known 13 is itself intentional discrimination on the basis of sex. Since Jane Doe alleged such a failure, she properly alleged the sort of intentional discrimination against which Title IX protects. Doe’s case was then remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion.