School District responsible for Bullying -- Ordered to pay $1 million to student's family

Not appropriately responding to bullying could cost school districts, BIG TIME.

The case is Zeno v. Pine Plains Central School District, 10-3604-cv. 

It was heard in the Second Circuit of the the United States Courts of Appeals-- specifically, in the Southern District of New York.  For all the non-lawyers/law students, the case basically says that the federal court of appeals over the federal district court for the Southern District of New York agreed with the final judgment in the trial court.  A jury heard the facts of the case against the Pine Plains Central School District and awarded the student who brought the case, and was bullied for three years with documented complaints, $1 million.

Pages 3- 15 of the Opinion detail the facts.  It lays out the evidence that from a young man's freshman year though his senior year, he was repeatedly bullied because of his race at a school where officials did not do enough. The District argued that its responses to the bullying were reasonable and that the trial court awarded the student too much money as damages.

The Second Circuit disagreed with the school district.

On whether the district was responsible, the Court held that, as a matter of law, the school district could be, and was determined to be (by a jury), responsible for the continuation of the bullying.  It used a legal standard called the "deliberate indifference standard."  Basically, before the school district could be liable for third-party conduct of the bully-ers, the court needed to be satisfied that (1) the school district had substantial control over "both the harasser and the context in which the known harassment occurs," (2) there was severe and discriminatory harassment, (3) the school district had actual knowledge of the conduct, and (4) the district displayed deliberate indifference to the conduct. See pages 22-23.

On the issue of damages, a federal law,Title VI, "provides a private right of damages against a school district for student-to-student harassment if the school district was deliberately indifferent to the known harassment."  See page 42.  The Court noted that the "ongoing and objective offensiveness of the student-on-student harassment" could support an award for $1 million.  See page 48.

Read the case.  Read the facts.  Think about your child, or any child that you love.  Pay up district.  Pay up.

No comments: