A Michigan jury recently determined that a school district violated the law by failing to protect student from bullying. Based on the jury verdict in Patterson v. Hudson Area Schools, the U.S. District Court awarded the student $800,000 in damages.
The student was ridiculed repeatedly for several years and called names with sexual connotations. The student estimated that he was called names more than 200 times in one school year. The harassment culminated in a sexual assault of the student in the high school locker room.
The student and his parents reported several bullying incidents to school officials. The student was placed in a special education resource class for one year which helped, but the principal refused to allow the student to continue in the resource class the following year. Other attempts by school personnel to intervene, such as meetings to mentor the student and disciplining the student harassers, did not stop or reduce the ongoing bullying.
On May 1, 2009, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the student had alleged facts that, if proven, would support a finding of liability against the school district. The Circuit Court held that the student’s allegations that the school district had actual knowledge, that the school district’s efforts to remediate the situation were ineffective, and that the school district continued to use those exact same methods despite the fact that they obviously did not work would support a finding of liability against the school district.
Following the Sixth Circuit’s decision, the Michigan jury decided that the student was able to establish that he was subjected to severe harassment that the school district knew about and responded to with indifference.