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DOE Held Not Liable for Students’ Harassment, Corrective Measures Were Reasonably Calculated to End Harassment

Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2018 6:28 am

On June 11, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the State of Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) was not liable for students’ harassment of a teacher because the DOE promptly responded to the complaints with corrective measures that were reasonably calculated to end the harassment.

In Campbell v. State of Hawaii Dept. of Educ., a Maui music/band teacher at King Kekaulike High School sued the DOE for hostile work environment after students allegedly called her offensive names based on her race (white) and sex (female).  The students allegedly called her names such as “cunt,” “bitch”, and “f___ haole.” 

Recognizing that the students were not the teacher’s employer, the Court stated that the DOE could be held accountable for the students’ alleged harassment “only if, after learning of the harassment, it failed to take prompt corrective measures that were ‘reasonably calculated to end the harassment.’”  The Court also explained that the law does not require a perfectly effective response that prevents future harassment by a third party, only a reasonable response based on what the employer knew or should have known at the time. 

In this case, the DOE immediately launched investigations after receipt of each complaint and issued discipline varying from warnings, detention, and suspension depending on the situation.  The Court found that the disciplinary process was effective at preventing future harassment since at most only two students were repeat offenders.

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