The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, District Judge.
This action was brought on behalf of plaintiff Robert Warren,
alleging claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., and
other federal and state claims. Plaintiff's claims are based on
allegations of sexual abuse by Plaintiff's school teacher, Harold
Brown. A jury trial was held, and the jury returned a verdict
against Reading School District on Plaintiff's Title IX claim,
awarding $400,000 in damages. Defendant Reading School District
filed a post trial motion for judgment as a matter of law under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) or, in the alternative, for a new trial on the
Title IX claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59, which is presently before
the Court. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is
For the purposes of this Motion the facts will be viewed in the
light most favorable to the Plaintiff. In April, 1995, Robert
Warren ("Robbie") transferred into the Tenth and Green Elementary
School, where he was assigned to Harold Brown's fourth grade
classroom. At some point after Robbie's transfer, Mr. Brown asked
Robbie to stay after school, locked the classroom door, then
asked him to participate in an activity that Mr. Brown called
"shoulders." This activity involved Robbie doing squats with his
head between Mr. Brown's legs and his shoulders on Mr. Brown's
thighs. This took place two or three times per week during the
school year. Mr. Brown also drove by Robbie's house over the
following summer, picked Robbie up, and took him to a "secret
place" near the woods where they again engaged in "shoulders."
In early November, 1995, Robbie's mother discovered Robbie's
journal and read an entry in which Robbie described engaging in
"shoulders" with Mr. Brown at a secret spot. She spoke to Robbie,
then reported the incident to the Berks County Children and Youth
Services. Mr. Brown was suspended with pay, and he ultimately
resigned his position.
An action was brought against Defendants on behalf of
Plaintiff, alleging claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et
seq., and other federal and state claims. The jury returned a
verdict against Defendant Reading School District, awarding
$400,000 in damages. Reading School District subsequently filed
this Motion for judgment as a matter of law, or in the
alternative a new trial.
I. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
A renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) should only be granted if, "viewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and giving
it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is
insufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find
liability." Coleman v. Kaye, 87 F.3d 1491, 1497 (3d Cir. 1996)
(citations omitted). A mere scintilla of evidence is not enough.
See Walter v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 985 F.2d 1232, 1238 (3d Cir.
1993). Instead, there must be sufficient "evidence upon which the
jury could properly find a verdict for that party." Lightning
Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993)
(citations omitted). In making the determination, the Court "may
not weigh the evidence, determine credibility of witnesses, or
substitute its version of the facts for the jury's version."
Defendant's Motion argues that
plaintiff introduced no evidence from which the jury
could determine that an official of the Reading
School District who, at a minimum, had authority to
address alleged discrimination and to institute
corrective measures on the School District's behalf
had actual knowledge of, and was deliberately
indifferent to Harold Brown's conduct.
Defendant's Motion at ¶¶ 1-3. Defendant's argument is
based on Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School
District, 524 U.S. 274, 118 S.Ct. 1989, 141 L.Ed.2d
277 (1998), in which the Supreme Court limited a
plaintiff's ability to recover against a school
district under Title IX to situations in which "an
official of the school district who at a minimum has
authority to institute corrective measures on the
district's behalf has actual notice of, and is
deliberately indifferent to, the teacher's
misconduct." Gebser, 524 U.S. at 284, 118 S.Ct.
The Court finds that the jury was presented with sufficient
evidence to find that Dr. Sepulveda, the principal at the Tenth
and Green Elementary School, had actual notice of, and was
deliberately indifferent to Mr. Brown's misconduct. Carlos
Mercado, the parent of a boy who had previously been a student in
Mr. Brown's classroom, testified that he told Dr. Sepulveda that
he "wanted to talk to her about Mr. Brown taking my kid to his
house, that there's no reason for him to take him to his house
and give money to him to lift him up and down." Dr. Sepulveda
apparently walked out, saying that she was in a hurry, but
directed Mr. Mercado to speak to the school's guidance counselor,
Frank Vecchio. Mr. Mercado did so, repeating his complaint to Mr.
The jury also received evidence from two "supervisory
conference" memoranda, in which Mr. Brown was evaluated. The
first such memorandum, dated March 12, 1969, stated that "[w]e
also discussed his preparation for graduate school — children in
his class — and his involvement with children after school
hours." The second memorandum, dated October 24, 1995, stated "it
has been brought to my attention that the games that you play
with the students in the classroom involve physical contact. For
the best interest of all concerned, this situation must `stop'."
Dr. Sepulveda testified that this memorandum refers not to
inappropriate sexual contact, but rather to a parent's complaint
that inappropriate "horseplay" was occurring in Mr. Brown's
classroom during recess.
Considering this evidence together, the jury could reasonably
have found that Dr. Sepulveda had notice of accusations that Mr.
Brown was engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with students.
Taking the evidence chronologically, the 1969 supervisory
conference memorandum was surely ambiguous, but may have at least
raised the jury's suspicion. Mr. Mercado's conversation with Dr.
Sepulveda, then Mr. Vecchio, when combined with this memorandum,
may have strengthened that suspicion. Then, in considering the
1995 memorandum, the jury may not have believed Dr. Sepulveda's
argument that she was referring to "horseplay" in the classroom
during recess when she wrote, "the games you play with the
students in the classroom involve physical contact. For the best
interest of all concerned, this situation must `stop'." Although
this last memorandum comes a few months after Mr. Brown's
contacts with Robbie, the jury may have found it probative,
especially when combined with the other evidence in this case, of
Dr. Sepulveda's credibility generally, and more specifically what
Dr. Sepulveda and the Reading School District knew ...