Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District (1998)

Alida Gebser was thirteen years old when she met Frank Waldrup, who would later be one of her teachers during her first year of high school. In her school district in Lago Vista, Texas, class offerings for the most gifted students had just been cut, so Alida took Mr. Waldrup up on his offer to give her one-on-one lessons, in spite of his occasional illicit commentary. Their tutoring sessions quickly turned into a sexual relationship that lasted a year and a half until the police got involved.

Confused and violated, Alida and her family attempted to hold their school district accountable for Waldrup’s behavior. The case Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1998 that school districts can be held responsible only if they knew about the sexual harassment and refused to do anything about it. This decision is devastating in that it actually provides less recourse for children to file a complaint about harassment than the average adult employee – even the teachers in Alida’s school have more protection against unwanted advances than their vulnerable and impressionable charges.

Further, the Gebser case has been used as precedent to limit liability for damages for harassment based on race, color, and national origin, making it nearly impossible for victims of harassment to sue under Title IX, Title VI, or other related statutes in order to restore their sense of justice.

For more information see our fact sheets on racial justice, children’s rights and women’s rights.