Being tormented by the school bully is an awful experience for a child. It is also often frustrating for parents when it happens to their kids, faced with limited options and sometimes uncooperative or oblivious school officials.
Some parents are finding a new way to seek justice for their bullied children, by filing a lawsuit against the bully, the school district, or both.
Parents Who Sued
Jason Medley, of Houston, filed a defamation lawsuit last June against three of his daughter’s classmates. The classmates were accused of filming themselves making false sexual remarks about his daughter and posting the video to Facebook. The complaint was settled months later with apologies from the girls and a small donation to a charity that fights against cyberbullying, according to Medley’s attorney.
An Ohio man is suing the parents of a boy who hit his son, as well as the school district. David Brown says his son had a concussion after the other boy repeatedly struck his son in the face with his fists. The suit against the school district alleges that the district is partially responsible, as they knew or should have known the accused bully was “…a delinquent minor child with a known propensity for violent and assaultive behavior toward other students.”
Victim Sues the Bully
A former student at a prestigious New York prep school is suing the the school and a former classmate for $1.5 million in damages, eight years after the bullying is alleged to have happened. Eric Giray, now a sophomore at Brandeis University, says he was bullied for years before eventually being shoved into the school bleachers, when his nose was broken. In the lawsuit, Giray says the school failed to respond to his mother’s complaints about bullying, failed to protect him, and did not have an anti-bullying policy.
A 14-year-old girl in Georgia is suing two classmates for libel after they posted a false Facebook profile about her. Cobb County school officials said they couldn’t do anything about it, as the harassment did not occur on school grounds; police told the girl’s parents to contact Facebook and report the fake page. The girl says despite numerous complaints, the page was not removed until after the lawsuit was filed.
Does It Work?
In one recent case, a 12-year-old New Jersey boy was paralyzed after a known bully punched him in the abdomen, causing a blood clot in an artery that supplies blood to the spine. The boy, now 18, and his family settled with the family of the bully for unknown terms. The lawsuit with the school district alleged that repeated bullying had been reported, and that school officials knew or should have known the boy’s attacker had violent tendencies. The district settled out of court for $4.2 million.
In 2011, six current and former students sued the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, alleging that the district was aware of systematic anti-gay harassment and did nothing, thereby violating the students’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law. The school eventually agreed to a settlement that involves being monitored by the U.S. departments of Justice and Education for five years, hiring anti-bullying and mental health consultants, and creating a new curriculum policy. The students who sued will split a settlement of $270,000.
Monetary settlements can’t take away the emotional and physical scars from bullying, of course. Most experts recommend suing the family of the bully or the district itself as a last resort, if no other strategies have worked to stop the harassment. Bullying claims can be very difficult to prove, and in order to successfully sue a school district, courts have ruled that the plaintiff must prove the school knew about the bullying and didn’t stop it.