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Mother files Title IX complaint against Brighton Area Schools after she says her daughter was raped in high school bathroom

A formal complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against Brighton Area Schools involving an alleged rape in 2022.

The mother of a former district student alleges the district violated her daughter’s rights after she reported being raped by another student in a Brighton High School bathroom. Both students were in seventh grade at the time. Neither is being identified as they are minors.

According to the complaint, the 12-year-old girl was asked by the boy on June 2, 2022, if she wanted to meet him at Brighton High School (BHS). At the time, they had been dating for approximately one week. The girl brought her friend with her to BHS since she did not know her way around the high school, where they met with the boy and two of his friends. The boy asked the girl if he could talk to her in private and then reportedly took her through several dark hallways until they reached an empty bathroom. Once there, he’s alleged to have pressured her to go inside the bathroom with him. She says she eventually relented as she didn’t know how to find her way back to her friend.

Once inside, the girl said the boy “locked the door and began taking pictures and videos,” but left briefly when one of his friends knocked on the door. She then says when the boy returned, “he became aggressive…and forced himself on her.” He then allegedly undressed the girl and raped her, “holding his hand over her mouth so she was unable to scream.”

The complaint says the girl’s mother reported the incident several days later to the Brighton Police Department (BPD), which began an investigation and met with the girl and her mother at their home. The girl then participated in a forensic interview a week later at LACASA Center, where the complaint says the mother was not allowed to stay in the room, while her daughter “was terrified to be separated from her mother while being grilled by a stranger for an hour.” It also says that “unbeknownst to the family,” that interview became part of BAS’s Title IX investigation, although no Title IX staff was present.

The complaint also alleges that both before and after the assault, the boy would “sexually harass” the girl at school, where he reportedly pressured her into wearing shorts or skirts, and on several occasions, “reached in between (her) legs and grabbed her thighs without her consent.”

Several weeks later, the mother ended up filing a Title IX report with the district about the incident, which resulted in an investigation by the Thrun Law Firm, which provides legal counsel to school districts across the state. Attorney Cathleen Dooley was eventually assigned by the firm to conduct the investigation. Dooley issued her findings on October 31, 2022, determining that neither the June 2nd , 2022 incident nor explicit text and social media messages sent by the boy to the girl prior to the alleged assault constituted a violation of BAS’ Title IX policy. That was then confirmed on November 30, 2022, when Title IX Coordinator Michelle Allison issued BAS’ Determination of Responsibility and adopted Dooley’s findings.

The Brighton Police, meanwhile, concluded their investigation and submitted a warrant request along with the police report to the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office. However, as far as is known, no charges were filed in the case.

Frustrated by inaction, the mother turned to attorney Liz Abdnour of Abdnour Weiker LLP, whose Lansing-based firm is focused on education rights. Abdnour filed an official complaint on behalf of the girl on January 28, 2023 with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against Brighton Area Schools.

In the complaint, Abdnour says the district’s Title IX findings were made with no independent analysis and that the girl was “discriminated against on the basis of her sex due to BAS’ failure to comply with federal regulations and institutional policies and procedures in its Title IX investigation of her complaint.”

Among those failures, according to Abdnour, was to properly apply definitions of sexual assault and sexual harassment as defined by state and federal law as well as failing to appropriately analyze consent as defined in its own policy.

The policy defines consent as “words or actions that a reasonable person would understand as agreement to engage in the sexual conduct at issue. A person may be incapable of giving consent because of age or because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity. A person who is incapacitated is not capable of giving consent.”

Abdnour says the reasons provided by BAS as to why it found that the girl consented to have sex “is not logical or rational,” noting that Allison’s report concluded that “Complainant did not tell Respondent “no” nor tell Respondent that she did not want to engage in sexual activity while they were in the bathroom together….” Allison further noted that the girl “went to the bathroom without force; had her phone with her during the entire incident; and did not leave the restroom when Respondent left her alone in the restroom.”

“Again, this makes no logical sense,” said Abdnour. “Allison has made no finding at all with regard to any affirmative words or actions that a reasonable person would understand as agreement to engage in sexual conduct, and instead relies on a lack of a “no” which is inappropriate for an affirmative consent policy definition.”

Abdnour also assailed the remaining components of Allison’s rationale as “similarly nonsensical” because “having one’s phone on one’s person does not prevent rape, and staying in a room where one’s rapist has exited are not signs that one has not been raped – none of which is a relevant consideration under an affirmative consent policy.”

The complaint concludes that “BAS’s failure to properly apply state, federal, and policy definitions and analyze the facts correctly under those definitions constitutes deliberate indifference by BAS in violation of rights under Title IX,” and requests an “audit of BAS’ Title IX policy, processes, procedures, and oversight mechanisms to review for compliance with appropriate BAS procedures and policies as well as state and federal laws and guidance.”

It also seeks “appropriate training for individuals involved in BAS’ Title IX response and investigation process,” and “ongoing oversight by OCR of BAS’ Title IX complaint resolution process.” Compensation is also being sought for   “out-of-pocket costs resulting from BAS’ failures, including costs for therapy and mental health treatment” as well as “Reasonable attorney’s fees for bringing this complaint.”

When contacted for comment, BAS Superintendent Dr. Matthew Outlaw sent GIGO News the following statement:

“I want it to be clear that the Brighton Area Schools has no tolerance for such behavior and severe consequences would be issued for any individual found guilty of such a violation.  The health, wellness and safety of our students remains our highest priority,” he said.

“As I think we all know, governmental agencies such as school districts and law enforcement have certain limitations on what we can and cannot say, which can lead to an incomplete accounting of an event.  Local police have shared that this matter was ‘thoroughly investigated and is currently closed’.  As a school district, we rely on the professional expertise and experience of our law enforcement partners and we assisted them with the investigation of these serious allegations.”

Meanwhile, the BAS district is currently in mediation involving a lawsuit filed over another alleged sexual assault. It was filed in April of 2022 in U.S District Court in Detroit by a former student with developmental disabilities who alleges she was retaliated against following a 2019 sexual assault after which she was pressured into dropping her complaint to the police. The district has denied those allegations.

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