Education & Schools Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Part in Title IX Litigation

Summary: Education & Schools Expert Witness testimony is granted in part and denied in part despite the fact that the plaintiff argued that her expert opinion on Title IX is not a proper subject of expert testimony.

Facts: This case (Pogorzelska v. VanderCook College of Music – United States District Court – Northern District of Illinois – June 5th, 2023) involves a Title IX claim against a college. The plaintiff, Erika Pogorzelska, alleges she was sexually assaulted at an off-campus party when she was attending school at the defendant college. The plaintiff claims that the defendant did not address her allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and then retaliated against her, which is in violation of Title IX of federal education law. The defendant hired Education & Schools Expert Witness Sandra Schuster to provide an expert opinion. The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to exclude Schuster’s expert witness testimony.

Discussion: The plaintiff alleges that Schuster’s expert witness opinion should be excluded because 1) it is not the proper subject of expert testimony; 2) the expert opinion has improper legal conclusions; and 3) reliable methodology was not used to form her expert opinion.

The court first addresses whether Schuster’s opinion is not the proper subject of expert testimony. The court states that Schuster’s testimony is relevant regarding whether the school’s response to the harassment allegations was clearly unreasonable. The court also notes that numerous federal courts have decided that expert opinions on how schools approach Title IX can be helpful to a jury.

The court next looks at the plaintiff’s argument that Schuster’s expert opinion contains improper legal conclusions.  The court rules that it will allow Schuster’s opinion about the history and purpose of Title IX and that her expert opinion that the defendant complied with industry standards. That said, the court relates that there are sections of Schuster’s report that should be excluded under Rule 702 because she makes numerous statements of law about how the standard operates.

Last, the plaintiff maintains that Schuster’s expert opinion should be excluded because her opinion is only based on her own experience. Also, the plaintiff states that Schuster does not show that her opinion is consistent with opinions of other experts.  The court opines that Schuster’s way of opining about the reasonableness of the defendant’s response to the allegations which was based on her training and experience is reliable methodology.

Conclusion: The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Sandra Schuster is granted in part and denied in part.