Agnes Scott College may be held vicariously liable for actions of investigator in student sexual assault case – possibly opening the door for additional Title IX claims
Schools beware – you may not be able to hide behind the actions of sexual misconduct investigators when the investigation goes awry. That is the hard lesson handed down by the Georgia Court of Appeals in Agnes Scott College, Inc. v. Hartley, A18A0084. That case involved a charge of sexual assault by one student against another student. The charge was investigated by a full-time employee of Agnes Scott who happened to be POST certified. That employee caused the accused student to be arrested in her home state and extradited to Georgia. The charges were later dropped against the student and she then sued Agnes Scott and others, claiming vicarious liability for the investigator’s tortious actions. Agnes Scott argued that it could not be held liable for the investigator’s actions since it did not direct him to act in that manner. The trial court and court of appeals disagreed, finding that the investigator was acting as an employee of Agnes Scott. As a result, Agnes Scott could be held vicariously liable for those actions.
The takeaway here is that schools cannot distance themselves from their investigators in Title IX and criminal investigations into sexual assaults on campus. At least in Georgia, schools may be held liable in tort for faulty investigations, opening the door for claims beyond mere Title IX violations.