ATLANTA (AP) — A federal appeals court in Atlanta on Wednesday allowed a lawsuit against an Alabama school board to continue over a 14-year-old girl who was used by a school employee in a plot to catch an alleged sexual predator.
A middle school teacher's aide asked the 14-year-old to go into a bathroom as bait so a 16-year-old eighth-grader with a history of sexual harassment allegations could be caught trying to have sex with her and could be disciplined. The plan backfired, and evidence shows the girl was sexually assaulted.
Why the plan was carried out and who knew about it are at issue in the court fight that pits the man and his daughter against the north Alabama school district that says its administrators aren't to blame for the 2010 attack. The U.S. Department of Justice and 33 groups that advocate against sexual violence last year filed a brief in the case asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court's decision to dismiss the federal lawsuit filed by the girl's father against the Madison County School Board and several employees at the time.
They argued that U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Putnam should have let the father's lawsuit move forward, arguing Putnam erred when ruling that Sparkman Middle School officials didn't have sufficient warning the boy might pose a threat. Putnam didn't endorse the idea of using a girl as bait for a predator but said allowing her to be put in such a position wasn't bad enough for the lawsuit to continue under legal standards.
The lawsuit was filed under federal Title IX law, which in part prohibits sexual harassment in schools, including student-on-student harassment. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit found the suit did meet the necessary requirements to be considered under that law.
Eric Artrip, a lawyer for the girl and her father, said in a phone interview that he's pleased with the decision.
"Hopefully, one day soon our client will have her day in front of a jury," he said. "That's what we've wanted all along and that's what she's wanted all along."
Lawyers for the school board did not immediately return a call and emails seeking comment Wednesday.
Court files do not include the girl's name, and The Associated Press isn't reporting the boy's because he was a juvenile at the time, wasn't charged with a crime and was dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Authorities have said the boy wasn't prosecuted because the girl initially said she wasn't threatened or forced to have sex.