School District Repeatedly Violated Title IX by Ignoring Student Complaints of Rape,
Sexual Assault and Harassment, Bullying, and Failed to Take Action Against Perpetrators
AG James Seeks Oversight, Monitoring, and Creation of New
Procedures for the School District’s Handling of Sexual Assault
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today filed a lawsuit against the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District (NWCSD) for failing to respond to incidents of sexual assault and bullying in the schools. This legal action follows an investigation launched by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in 2019, which found that NWCSD deliberately ignored student complaints of rape, assault, sexual harassment, and gender-based bullying, and took no action to protect them from their assailants and harassers, leading several students to drop out of school and lose access to educational opportunities. The lawsuit alleges that NWCSD repeatedly violated the federal Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and New York state common law, requiring that schools provide adequate supervision of their students to protect them from harm. Attorney General James’ lawsuit seeks oversight, monitoring, and the creation and implementation of new procedures for the school district and all of its schools to better address the handling of sexual assault.
“It is unconscionable that an institution tasked with educating and protecting its students turned a blind eye to the abuse, harassment, and bullying happening right in its school halls,” said Attorney General James. “The NWCSD’s inaction demonstrates that it did not have adequate systems in place to protect its students — particularly young women — when they needed it most. This indifference to student suffering has caused physical, mental, and emotional trauma, and jeopardized students’ education. My office remains committed to standing against sexual assault of any kind, anywhere, and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all New Yorkers. I will continue to use the law to hold the school district accountable for its negligence, and to empower survivors of sexual harassment and assault.”
“Three years ago, the Niagara Wheatfield School District failed me. Their negligence and active disregard for my well-being only deepened my pain and suffering. In the time since, they have repeatedly tried to intimidate and silence me,” said TG, a former Niagara Wheatfield High School student who was raped by a fellow classmate. “Today, with this lawsuit, I feel a glimmer of hope. It is time to ensure Niagara Wheatfield does not fail another student in the way they failed me. Thank you, Attorney General James, for taking a stand and joining me in this fight. I will not be silenced.”
Federal law guarantees all students the right to a public education, and it provides that they shall not be deprived of this most basic right on the basis of sex. To that end, Title IX specifically requires that schools take steps to protect students from gender-based harassment and sexual assault that create a hostile educational environment and deprive students of educational opportunities.
The OAG’s investigation into NWCSD began after media reports detailed how NWCSD did nothing in response to the rape of TG by a fellow student in May 2018. TG was forced to attend school with her assailant for the year following her rape. Even after the assailant pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, he was still allowed to remain in school, and was told he could attend prom and graduation. The NWCSD finally expelled him in May 2019, but only in response to the nationwide public and media attention brought by a student walkout organized to protest the school’s inaction. The school district also took no action against the students that bullied TG over her rape, but instead punished several students for participating in the walkout.
The investigation found that on multiple occasions, NWCSD did not protect students from harassment and bullying, affecting the overall school climate and harming students for a period of years. In the last several years, there have been more than 30 documented incidents of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or gender-based bullying at NWCSD, yet NWCSD never created a single written safety plan, nor took any documented effort to keep students safe following these reports of rape, physical or sexual assault, or harassment. As a direct result of the hostile environment cultivated by NWCSD, at least two students dropped out of school.
The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, seeks injunctive relief, including oversight, monitoring, and trainings for NWCSD, and the creation of new policies and practices for the handling of sexual assault, including a written safety plan for victims of harassment and assault.
This is OAG’s first lawsuit against a school district for the mishandling of accusations of sexual assault, and it is the latest legal action that Attorney General James has taken in her continued national fight to ensure Title IX rights are not violated or infringed upon in any way. Attorney General James has previously worked to protect all New Yorkers from sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination at schools, in workplaces, and everywhere else. In November 2019, Attorney General James successfully led a coalition of attorneys general in the fight to support the rights of transgender students to use bathrooms in line with their identity. In June 2020, Attorney General James filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, seeking to stop a Trump Administration rule that made students more vulnerable to sexual assault by hindering how schools investigate, address, and remedy sexual harassment in schools, colleges, and universities. In February 2020, Attorney General James sent two comment letters to the Trump Administration, opposing federal proposals that rolled back critical anti-discrimination protections — including those for survivors of sexual harassment — for patients and for students. In January 2020, Attorney General James announced a settlement for 11 former employees who were sexually harassed and abused at the West Village restaurant The Spotted Pig.
This case was led by Senior Counsel Sandra Pullman of the Civil Rights Bureau, under the supervision of Civil Rights Deputy Bureau Chief Travis England and Bureau Chief Jessica Clarke. The Civil Rights Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, and is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.