Sexual Misconduct By School Teachers

Seemingly every week, there is a new story about an improper relationship between a teacher and an underage student.  Almost all of these relationships are both morally wrong and against the law.

In criminal court, the prosecutor must prove every element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.  That’s the highest possible standard of proof.  But in civil court, the victim/plaintiff must establish a case with a preponderance of the evidence, or “more likely than not.”  So, even if the authorities refuse to take cup the case or unsuccessfully prosecute the perpetrator, the victim may be able to obtain justice in civil court, as a civil sexual assault lawyer Atlanta GA trusts can explain.

Individual Liability

Many states have laws that prohibit any relationship of a sexual nature between teachers and their students.  These prohibitions are usually very broad, and include not only sexual contact, but also lesser acts. If that is the case, and the perpetrator caused injury, the victim may be entitled to compensation.  The injury need not be a physical one, because courts have repeatedly held that things like poor grades or an unwillingness to engage in certain activities satisfy the damages requirement.

Even if such laws do not exist or are inapplicable in that case, many schools have policies that prohibit any non-educational relationships between students and teachers.  If that is the case, violating a written policy creates a presumption of negligence, at least in most cases, making damages easier to obtain in court.

School District Liability

The individual is usually not the only person responsible for damages.  Largely to help ensure that the school district accepts responsibility and makes changes, these entities are often liable for damages as well.

If the complained-of acts occurred at school, the district is normally vicariously (indirectly) liable, under the respondeat superior rule.  This doctrine applies if the conduct occurred within the course and scope of employment.  Some courts have held that, if the acts did not occur at school, this doctrine does not apply.

Direct liability may be available as well.  The victim may file a claim against the school district for a teacher’s sexual misconduct based on:

  • Negligent Hiring: If the school failed to conduct a proper background check, or perhaps knew about a history of incidents but elected to give the person a “second chance,” the school district may be responsible for damages.
  • Negligent Supervision: Sometimes, the issue arises during the person’s employment, and the school district does not do anything, does not do enough to stop the conduct, or does not even know about it.

In each case, the victim must prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence, as outlined above.


Thanks to our contributors from Butler Tobin for their insights into sexual misconduct by religions leaders.