A Philadelphia judge ruled late last month in favor of a former student in the Philadelphia School District who alleged extensive bullying and physical assault by students at multiple schools in Philadelphia.
Lawsuit Alleged Abuse by Students Based on Sex/Gender
The case involved a student who alleged bullying by students at each of the 3 schools attended by the student. The bullying occurred due to the student’s gender nonconformity and included verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexualized comments and threats. The abuse started in elementary school and continued despite the student being transferred to 2 schools within the district. The student alleged severe emotional trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and physical manifestations of the trauma.
The lawsuit was filed under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Act) and made the argument that the student was subjected to bullying based on sex or gender, which is prohibited by the Act.
Per Section 3 of the Act, Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Employment, Housing and Public Accommodation:
The opportunity for an individual to obtain employment for which he is qualified, and to obtain all the accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any public accommodation and of any housing accommodation and commercial property without discrimination because of race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, handicap or disability, age, sex, national origin, the use of a guide or support animal because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap of the user or because the user is a handler or trainer of support or guide animals is hereby recognized as and declared to be a civil right which shall be enforceable as set forth in this act. (emphasis added)
Under the Act’s definitions, “public accommodation” includes “public libraries, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, high schools, academies, colleges and universities, extension courses and all educational institutions under the supervision of this Commonwealth…” Based on the language of the Act, it seems pretty clear that schools are prohibited from discriminating against individuals (i.e., students) on the basis of race, color, sex, etc.
However, the case is likely to be appealed given that another judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ruled against a victim in a remarkably similar case under the same law, less than one year ago.
Interestingly, the legal reasoning in the recent case could pave the way for application in school sex abuse victims cases, especially where a student is sexually abused by another student and subsequently bullied or otherwise harassed. The same argument could be made that the school district violated the Act and essentially discriminated against a sex abuse victim on the basis of sex or gender.
Stay tuned. An appeal could take about 2 years or more. Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will probably have to decide the issue.
Visit our law library for more info on victims’ legal rights in sex abuse lawsuits. Call our firm for a free consultation in sex abuse or assault cases. 215.399.9255
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