Court Case: Howard v. Bishop State Community College, et al.

Case History

In November 2003, Kimberly Howard, a student at Bishop State Community College in Alabama, sued the college under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for sexual harassment allegedly committed by one of her instructors. The complaint also alleges violations of various Alabama state laws.

In spring and summer 2003, Howard attended Bishop State Community College to pursue a degree in Commercial Food Service, commonly referred to as “culinary arts.” Howard claims that in the spring, the head of the culinary arts program made unsolicited and unwanted sexual advances toward her while she was a student in his classes. While some of these advances took place in the classroom setting, others—which were even more sexually overt—occurred in his office.

For instance, Howard alleges that on numerous occasions, he intentionally touched her inappropriately in class, and did so in a way that other students would not notice. The actions ranged from brushing his arm against her buttocks to touching her breasts. Howard further alleges that on more than one occasion, when she reported to his office for class assignments, he was even more forward with his inappropriate touching. Following one particularly egregious sexual advance, Howard never returned to any of his classes.

In August 2003, Howard submitted a detailed eight-page report of the incidents to the director of human resources. A few days before fall semester classes started, Howard met with college officials to discuss the matter. Howard contends that she and the college officials agreed to rearrange her fall semester schedule so that she would not have to take any classes where her alleged harasser was the instructor.

A few days later, Howard talked with the dean about her concern that she would ultimately have to take classes with her alleged harasser in the spring semester to complete her degree. Howard alleges that in response, the official gave her the option of either facing her alleged harasser in class or entering a different degree program. Howard informed the dean that she was not interested in changing her degree. Howard is no longer a student at Bishop State Community College and is unaware of any action that the college has taken to adequately investigate or respond to her complaint of sexual harassment.

Howard filed suit in federal court in 2003. In fall 2004, the court denied the college’s motion for summary judgment on all claims, allowing the case to proceed to trial. In December 2004, following a four-day trial, a federal court jury awarded Howard a total of $285,000 in damages and found that Bishop State Community College violated Title IX by failing to adequately address Howard’s complaints of sexual harassment by one of her former instructors after receiving actual notice of her complaints.The college appealed the jury’s verdict in favor of Howard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Howard and the university entered into negotiations and reached a confidential settlement in November 2005.

Key Case Issue

Sexual harassment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.