Sewell v. Monroe City School Board, No. 18-31086 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed a civil rights action alleging that school administrators discriminated against him because he is an African American male. In this case, on the first day of high school, the Dean of Students asked teachers to send students with dyed hair to his office. All the students sent to the Dean's office were African American. The Dean and the Principal did not let plaintiff attend class that day because of his "two toned" blonde hairstyle. Although many students of all races, male and female, wore dyed hair to school, plaintiff was the only one disciplined for violating the school's hair policy during the school year. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff's intentional discrimination claim was untimely, but his harassment claim was timely based on the continuing violation doctrine. The court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's harassment claims under Title VI and Title IX against the Board, holding that plaintiff plausibly alleged that the Dean's harassment of plaintiff stemmed from a discriminatory view that African American males should not have two-toned blonde hair. Furthermore, the harassment may well have been so severe, pervasive, and offensive that it denied plaintiff an educational benefit, and it is plausible that the school board knew about the harassment, did little to ensure plaintiff was safe, and was therefore deliberately indifferent. However, the court held that plaintiff has not pleaded that the school board officials were deliberately indifferent to the Dean's retaliatory conduct. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim.