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Home Page >> Lawyer Interviews >> A Tough Title IX Fight in Alabama for BHJ

A Tough Title IX Fight in Alabama for BHJ

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Huntsville, ALThere is a lot of attention currently focused on the issue of sexual assault in educational environments. Five years ago, there were fewer news stories and arguably less consideration given to the rights of students and the responsibilities of schools and colleges to ensure a sexual harassment-free educational institution.

That, in part, may explain how the case of a 14-year-old special education student, who was used “as bait” and subsequently raped by a fellow student in a bathroom at a middle school in Alabama in 2010, has tragically slipped below the fold.

Now five years after the sexual assault, the perpetrator, who was discovered in the bathroom with the victim at the time of the assault, has never been prosecuted. Neither Madison County School District nor any of the school faculty or administrators have ever been held accountable for events that occurred.

And, although the girl known as BHJ in the court documents filed a lawsuit shortly after the assault, she has never been permitted an opportunity to tell her story inside a courtroom.

BHJ recently turned 19 and reached the age of majority. Although she would like to proceed using her real name, the Madison County School District has opposed that preferring she continue to remain anonymous.

In December 2013, the District Court in Alabama in a summary judgment dismissed all claims brought against the Madison County School Board, the school’s principal, faculty members and a teacher’s aide saying that the evidence brought forward did not meet the standard for a Title IX violation or the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lawyers soon thereafter filed an appeal and are currently waiting for a response from the courts.

“We felt the dismissal was in error and that is why we have appealed the case to the 11th Circuit,” says the girl’s lawyer, Eric Artrip, from the firm of Mastando & Artrip, LLC in Huntsville. The appeal argues that the school board violated Title IX because it was “deliberately indifferent to a known hostile environment harassment” and that “school officials had actual notice of sexual harassment.”

Furthermore, the school board and faculty members violated BHJ’s Right to Equal Protection under the Fourteen Amendment.

Neena Chaudhry, an attorney and advocate for Title IX from the National Women’s Law Center, is also part of the team representing BHJ.
Chaudhry calls the BHJ case, “particularly egregious.”


In 2007, BHJ’s mother died and she moved from North Carolina to Alabama to live with the stepmother of her siblings. In 2010, she was a special education student at middle school in Madison County.

BHJ, and number of other female students, complained about the sexually inappropriate conduct of CJC, a boy at the school with a documented record of misconduct, which included sexually inappropriate language, threats of violence, as well as making propositions to girls to have sex with him on school property.

The school principal, Ronnie Blair, according to the court documents, believed that “no student would be disciplined for sexual harassment unless they were ‘caught in the act’ through a witness, an admission, or physical evidence.”

In addition, unless an allegation could be proven, the “disciplinary forms reflecting the report and related documents were simply discarded.”

The principal’s approach seems to run contrary to the U.S. Department of Education and Title IX.

According to Title IX regulations and information published by The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights,“a school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively. If a school knows or reasonably should know about sexual harassment or sexual violence that creates a hostile environment, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the sexual harassment or sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.”

On January 22, 2010, CJC approached BHJ and asked her to have sex with him in the school bathroom. BHJ reported the event to a teacher’s aide. Aware of the principal’s policy, the teacher’s aide suggested to BHJ that she agree to meet the boy in the bathroom to “set him up.” The teacher’s aide then told the assistant principal and another teacher what she had arranged.

No teachers arrived to prevent CJC’s looming attack on BHJ. Despite her attempts to delay the attack and her warnings that teachers were coming to catch him, the assault proceeded. Several minutes too late, a teacher arrived and found CJC and BHJ in the bathroom.

The police were called. The girl’s stepmother took her to the hospital where it was confirmed she had been anally raped.

“There were no criminal charges in the case,” says Artrip. “She left the state shortly after this occurred. She was not available to press charges against the young man and then the prosecutor’s office decided not to do it.”

Already starting out in life as a special education student and living in foster care, the events in 2010 have increased her burden. According to the court documents, BHJ has suffered emotionally. Her grades began failing, she became depressed and angry, and has required counseling.

“Title IX provides certain protections,” notes Artrip. “The wins get a lot of publicity and the losses don’t. I think we are all legimately interested in how things might change under Title IX. I think it is also fair to say a lot of these cases are never brought or they are lost.”

“We are going to fight for her. We are hoping to change the standard for looking at Title IX cases to some extent, and I hope we are successful,” says Artrip.

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