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Articles Posted in Civil Rights

On August 16, 2016, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco decided a case involving school bullying.  Judge Bianco was called upon to decide whether a student was suspended from school because his parents complained about, among other things, the school’s failure to prevent bullying.  The student and parents brought claims against the school including First Amendment retaliation, due process violations, and tort claims including negligent supervision.

In sum, a school student “J.T.”, alleged that he was subjected to an ongoing pattern of bullying for three academic years.  J.T.’s parents complained on several occasions to school officials about the bullying.  According to the plaintiffs, each time they complained, the school offered a different excuse such as that they were unaware of the bullying or that incidents occurred outside of school so it could not do anything about it.  Shortly after each complaint, however, the school suspended J.T.  After attempts by the plaintiffs and their lawyer to have the school stop the bullying failed, they filed suit.

Turning to the First Amendment issue, Judge Bianco addressed defendants’ argument that for the plaintiffs to be able to sue under the First Amendment, they had to show that their speech, i.e. their complaints about the bullying, related to a matter of public concern,  and were not solely personal in nature.  Judge Bianco rejected the argument noting that “matter of public concern” is a question applicable in employment cases, but that the balancing test imposed by the public concern question is not relevant in circumstances unrelated to employment.  Finding that the “temporal proximity” (the timing) between the complaints and suspensions was sufficient to infer a retaliatory intent, Judge Bianco refused to dismiss the First Amendment claim.

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