John Doe A v. Penn State
First Penn State scandal lawsuit says Coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused a boy more than 100 times and the abuse was enabled by the school's "negligent oversight."
Bradley v. Lohan
Former Betty Ford Center employee sues Lindsay Lohan for assault, alleging the actress threw a phone at her and yanked her wrist while refusing to be breathalzyed.
N.D. v. New York Post
Hotel maid allegedly raped by French politician sues the New York Post for falsely reporting that she is a prostitute who "routinely traded sex for money" with male guests.
Reinhart v. Mortenson
Two Montana residents allege the author of "Three Cups of Tea" "fabricated material about his activities and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan" to sell the book.
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• Maryland appeals court says dog owners can be held strictly liable for pit bull attacks. "Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous." Tracey v. Solesky

• Woman who has been diagnosed as a sex addict sues a school district for failing to prevent her from having sex with male students on the school bus when she was in 11th grade.
Barksdale v. Egg Harbor Township Bd. of Ed.

• Civil rights activist challenges Georgia's "stand your ground law." "By not defining what actions create a reasonable perception justifying the use of deadly force, the Act[] potentially deprives all Georgia[n]s of the right to life without due process of law." Hutchins v. Deal

• Former patient of a Rhode Island doctor sues him for featuring her in a book about drug addiction. "Plaintiff had expected, as any reasonable patient would, that her private conversations during her treatment sessions with the Defendant would remain private and confidential."
Lisnoff v. Stein

• Class action alleges the YMCA deceives consumers by representing that it practices "Christian" values while allowing its gyms to be used for gay sex trysts. "YMCAs around the country ... are currently being used as brothels for cruising, with the YMCA's knowledge and implicit consent."
Keister v. YMCA

• Social workers are not liable for a sexual assault on a 5-year-old boy by a 16-year-old male placed in an adoptive home. "To rule against the individual defendants in this case would definitely break new ground."
Doe v. Braddy

• Student sues college for refusing to grant her the "reasonable accommodation" of a single room after she complained about her roommate's exhibitionist behavior.
Blankmeyer v. Stonehill College

• School district can be sued over a guidance counselor's sexual relationship with a student who was over the age of consent. "The inherent imbalance of power between a guidance counselor in a public school and a student may render opportunistic sexual predation sufficiently shocking, even with a 'consenting' student over sixteen, to form the basis of a substantive due process claim."
Doe v. Fournier

• Utah judge finds a "credible threat" that Utah County officials will prosecute a polygamist and his wives for bigamy. The officials' acts "suggest that an actual prosecution of Plaintiffs is forthcoming."
Brown v. Herbert

• Louisville, Ky., strip club sues a competitor for displaying an electronic sign outside a convention center that said "Don't go to Godfathers, their girls are ugly and have crabs."
The Godfather v. Trixie's Lounge

• A lawyer cannot sue two women he dated for posting derogatory comments about him on liarscheatersrus.com. "[W]hen viewed within the larger context of the website on which they were posted, there can be no doubt that a reasonable reader would understand the comments to be opinion." Coulotte v. Ryncarz

• Oglala Sioux tribe sues beer makers and Whiteclay, Neb., bars for enabling alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The illegal trade in alcohol has "caused devastating injuries to the Lakota people and massive financial damages to the [tribe]."
Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Schwarting




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Jury Awards $800K to Victim of "Pattern of Bullying" Print

A landmark $800,000 jury award to a Michigan teenager who was sexually harassed for years by schoolmates sends a message to school districts that taking action against individual students is not enough when there is a pattern of bullying.

A federal jury in Detroit agreed with the parents of Dane Patterson, now 19, that the Hudson Area Schools district showed deliberate indifference to systemic student-on-student sexual harassment — even though perpetrators were warned off when they were caught and even left him alone after that.

Patterson eventually left high school after years of enduring such taunts as “faggot” and “man boobs,” the defacing of his locker with a drawing of a penis inserted into a rectum, an episode in which students urinated on his clothes, and finally a locker room assault in which a star football player rubbed his genitals in Patterson’s face. His parents sued the district for violations of Title IX, the Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

The verdict is eight times what the district offered David and Dena Patterson before the trial. Title IX plaintiffs may also recover attorney fees — which means the final judgment could be the largest ever in a student-on-student harassment case.

The district has vowed to appeal. “[W]hen you’ve got 500 kids and you're supposed to predict what any two or three or one are going to do in advance, well good luck,” its attorney, Timothy J. Mullins, told the Detroit Free Press. “If somebody writes dirty names on a boy's locker and you can't identify who it is, you can't punish the whole school.”

But in many instances, Hudson school officials knew who had abused Patterson. When they would mete out verbal warnings to those perpetrators, the harassment would stop, but other students would come along to torment the boy. The jury found that the district knew about the harassment and deliberately ignored it.

To meet the legal standard of “deliberate indifference,” a school district’s response to harassment has to be “clearly unreasonable” if it is aware of the circumstances.

A federal judge summarily dismissed the Pattersons’ complaint, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October reinstated the Title IX sexual harassment claim, finding the verbal reprimands of individual students “did not prevent the overall and continuing harassment of DP [Dane Patterson], a fact of which Hudson was fully aware.”

Title IX, the court noted, says that “Where a school district has actual knowledge that its efforts to remediate are ineffective, and it continues to use those same methods to no avail, such district has failed to act reasonably in light of the known circumstances.” Patterson v. Hudson Area Schools, 551 F.3d 438 (2009).

The bullies were not punished with three-day suspensions, as outlined in the district’s own anti-bullying policy, and the district expelled the football player a few days before the end of the school year but invited him back for a banquet. School officials also made light of Patterson’s plight — one teacher commented in class that he needed to “man up” — and an administrator testified that he thought sexual harassment was defined as unwanted sexual advances.

Todd R. Sorensen, an education/employment attorney at Williams Kastner in Seattle, says the Patterson verdict is part of a trend that has favored plaintiffs suing under Title IX’s peer-on-peer sexual harassment clause.

What makes it unique, he tells On Point, is that the Hudson district did take action to stem the harassment but was found liable for continuing to use verbal reprimands when it knew or should have known they were ineffective. “It’s certainly one of the decisions out there that gives more breathing room to these types of claims,” he says. “Apparently, if you take action and you know it’s not working, that’s not good enough.”

Sorensen doesn't buy Mullins's argument that districts will now have to anticipate bullying and stop it before it happens. “If the district doesn’t know what’s going on, there’s no liability,” he says. “In this case, there was a pattern. The lesson is, if school districts are aware of the bullying, they have to take appropriate action.”

The Pattersons’ attorney, Terry E. Heiss of Ada, Mich., believes the verdict will likely have a “profound, long-term effect … This district never wanted to take responsibility, and I think that’s a message for other districts: you need to make sure your Title IX responses are appropriate.”

What happened to Dane Patterson was not mere teasing, but full-on harassment and intimidation. He deserved to be better protected.

By Julie Edgar
3/29/10


 

Editor's note: On Point's RSS feed has moved to this link.

rc_insidestories
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RC_OnFile

U.S. v. Arpaio
Subject: Civil rights
Document: Complaint

Schultz v. Medina Valley
Subject: School prayer
Document: Non-Kumbaya order

Chopourian v. Catholic Healthcare
Subject: Sexual harassment
Document: Verdict

Jackson v. Paula Deen
Subject: Sexual harassment
Document: Complaint

Marsh v. Air Tran Airways
Subject: Roaches on a plane
Document: Complaint

more

RC_OnTrial

Peterson/Pryde v. Thyden
Court: Montgomery (Va.) Circuit
Subject: Virginia Tech shootings
Verdict: $8 million

Sheridan v. Cherry
Court: L.A. Superior
Subject: Wrongful termination

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RC_OnTheDocket

Brown v. Herbert
Date: 12/16/11
Court: USDC, Utah
Hearing: Motion to dismiss polygamy case

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