Pennsylvania School District Found Liable For Failing To Address Bullying Of Young Student
December 28, 2018
A recent trial court in Philadelphia found that the Philadelphia School District was liable for failing to adequately address bullying of a young student. In the case of Wible v. School District of Philadelphia, April Term 2015, No. 3169 (Phila. Com. Pl. Dec. 17, 2018), the Court found that the School District was liable under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). The PA Human Relations Act forbids discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics, including sex. The Court found that the child was subjected to intense bullying for various reasons including that the female child’s appearance did not conform to gender stereotypes. The Court found that the School District was “deliberately indifferent” to the bullying despite regular reports.
The Court heard several days of testimony regarding the student’s experiences and from several experts. The evidence showed the student was physically assaulted several times and the Court stated that she “was called ‘tranny’, ‘transgender’, ‘it’, ‘lesbo’, ‘lesbian’, ‘he/she’, ‘shemale’, ‘fag’, ‘faggot,’ ‘bitch’, ‘freak’, ‘weirdo’, ‘cunt’, ‘anorexic bitch’, ‘mop’, ‘puta’, ‘slut’, ‘whore.’ Students made fun of Plaintiffs hair and clothes. She was told she should wear makeup.” The Court heard expert testimony about the extreme psychological effect this had on the child. The Court also found that the School District was continually put on notice of these issues and failed to take meaningful action.
Ultimately the Court concluded that “Plaintiff’s time in the School District was a gauntlet of sexual harassment and violence that would test the mettle of the strongest and most resilient youth. This harassment was endured for years until it became unbearable and Plaintiff was forced to withdraw from the School District. In this way Plaintiff was literally denied the use of a public accommodation on the basis of her sex. The PHRA forbids this. The School District is not generally liable for all conduct of its students. But it is liable, in its role as proprietor of a public accommodation, if it is deliberately indifferent to harassment and violence that has occurred and inevitably will continue to occur, and this harassment is so severe that it makes it impossible for one of the students entrusted to the School District’s care to enter the building.” The Court therefore awarded the Plaintiff $500,000.00 in damages plus just over $500,000.00 in attorney and expert fees. The School District has appealed the verdict.
The Court also determined that the School District was not immune from suit because the PHRA specifically imposes liability on government entities. Government entities like a school district generally have immunity from suit except in certain circumstances that are exceptions. This case stands as an example that government entities in Pennsylvania have obligations to employees and persons under their care and at least this Philadelphia trial court found that the Philadelphia School District’s indifference to the bullying claims of a young student was a violation of her rights under the PHRA. The appeal in this case will be addressed by the Pennsylvania appellate courts, but it certainly should give notice to school districts and parents that bullying in Pennsylvania public schools must be taken seriously or it can be potentially very costly. The lawyers at Conway Schadler have experience that can make the difference in these types of situations. Please contact our offices for a free consultation so we can discuss how this substantial experience can be used to your benefit.