Articles Posted in School Lawsuit

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The Clark County School District in Nevada has been ordered by a jury to pay some former students $540,000 because of an attack that happened on school property in 2013. Plaintiffs in the case say that Canyon Springs High School, Principal Ronnie Guerzon and the district did not adequately protect the victims of the attack.

Legal-Fees-PaidThree high school students were attending the “Senior Sunrise” breakfast at Canyon Springs High School in August 2013. As incoming seniors, they had been invited to the event. A text message that encouraged attendees to “bring their friends” had received wide distribution in the prior weeks. This may have helped three non-student attackers, who were all 18, to hear about the event and to decide to drop by. The intruders remained at the breakfast for about an hour with the approximately 150 other attendees.

As the event was winding down, the intruders started a food fight that had them spitting on the students. The three victims were then severely beaten. One victim was diagnosed with a skull fracture that including bleeding in the brain and another was robbed. Ultimately, the three intruders were charged with numerous crimes including battery with a deadly weapon, possession of a dangerous weapon on school property, robbery and challenges to fight. All three were convicted.

The three victims in the attack later sued the district and the school’s former principal, alleging that not enough was done to protect them from the intruders. Among the charges, the plaintiffs claim that security cameras were not operational, that identification was not being checked at the entrance and that there was not enough staff on site to provide adequate security. Court documents say that similar incidents had occurred at the same high school in the past.

For now, the school district is facing a sizable payment to the three victims of the attack. It seems likely that they will appeal the decision, though no announcement has been made. The plaintiffs’ attorney says she hopes that the district will “do more to keep kids safe,” and this is a cautionary tale for school administrators everywhere.

 

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The Ninth Circuit Court has acted to further eliminate the wage gap. In fact, it reversed a decision that the judge now views as unjust. The ruling sets precedent for female employees who allege that they are paid less than similarly qualified male counterparts for the same work.

Compensation-134182432-001The case in question is Rizo v. Yovino. Aileen Rizo is a math consultant employed with Fresno County Public Schools. When she learned that male colleagues in her department were being paid significantly more than she was, Rizo began investigating. What she learned eventually led her to sue her employer. Basically, Rizo was earning less because she had been paid less in her previous positions with other employers. Fresno County Public Schools used her wage history as justification for paying her less than male counterparts with similar experience.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with this pay history reasoning last year, aligning themselves with the defendant because the pay differential was based on “a factor other than sex.” The recent reversal of this finding means that a worker’s pay history cannot be construed as “a factor other than sex” under the auspices of the Equal Pay Act. This decision effectively wipes out 30 years of precedent, and activists say that it strikes a major blow to the wage gap situation.

In the decision, Judge Reinhardt wrote that “‘any factor other than sex’ is limited to legitimate, job-related factors such as a prospective employee’s experience, educational background, ability, or prior job performance.” The judge went on to argue that using the Equal Pay Act to perpetuate the gender wage gap runs contrary to the very purpose of the Act.

The decision is an echo of several state-level decisions that are prohibiting employers from gathering data relating to the salary history of prospective employees. Accordingly, it is critical for employers to update their hiring processes to reflect these changes. It also is sensible to review current salary data for all existing employees to ensure that any pay disparities between male and female colleagues with similar qualifications are supported by the provisions of the Equal Pay Act.

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In a new twist on the classic school bully story, one dad in New Jersey is suing his son’s school after the boy was disciplined for bullying.

schoolbullyingThe story began two years ago when Robert E. Taylor’s son was in the third grade. Identified only as “H.T.,” the boy was in the cafeteria when another boy tried to remove his sweatshirt. The t-shirt he was wearing underneath stuck to the sweatshirt, exposing the boy’s abdomen. Witnesses claimed that H.T. and at least one of his friends laughed at the other boy. The friend also drew a caricature of the boy without a shirt, and H.T. allegedly encouraged his friend to post the picture on Facebook.

The picture was never posted, but the trouble had begun. The school’s vice principal spoke to H.T. in an interview in which H.T. denied laughing at the other boy or encouraging his friend to post the picture on Facebook. Not satisfied, the vice principal kept digging, discovering that the other boy was frequently called names by students, though no one could remember H.T. ever being among the name callers.

The vice principal concluded that H.T. must be involved. In a later interview, H.T. told the principal that he had laughed at the boy and encouraged his friend to post the picture online. However, H.T. maintained that he had not participated in any other bullying activity against the other boy.

H.T. was punished for his behavior by having to miss one day of recess, but his father was not satisfied with the outcome. He appealed the punishment to the school board, eventually taking the case to the Commissioner of Education for the state. The commissioner passed the case on to the Office of Administrative Law, but Taylor doubted that he would get the results he was hoping for from that entity.

Now, he has filed a lawsuit that argues that his son’s free speech and due process rights were violated. The suit also claims racial discrimination, detailing harsher punishments for black students at the school. It remains to be seen how this case will be decided.

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One of the questions I hear frequently is about whether we are accepting new clients.

While the short answer is “Yes”, here is some additional information which many people find interesting.

Great%20Fit%20Gears%2039896521-001.jpgOur law firm, Sylvester Oppenheim & Linde is committed to client service and quality legal representation for each and every client. That means that we only accept clients who we feel are a good match for our expertise, experience and areas of practice.

I learned a long time ago that we can’t be all things to all clients, but we can be all things to some clients: and those are the ones we welcome and serve in an exemplary manner.

The purpose of this blog is to provide helpful information to anyone who reads it. On our website, you will find another example of our “Be of Service” attitude by reading our Home Page Article “Eleven Questions to ask BEFORE Hiring a Business Attorney“. You will also find a list of our practice areas on that page.

Our clients tell us that they appreciate our honesty, accessibility and guidance. And we appreciate our clients.

Back to the question. The answer is: “Yes, we are always looking for one or two new good clients.” If you have a legal issue, I invite you to call and let’s find out whether we are a great fit for each other. I can be reached at 818-461-8500 or via the Contact form on this page.

Richard Oppenheim

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The line that divides free speech from school speech is one that often gets blurred. In an age where multitudes of information is available at the touch of a finger, the situation becomes even more complex. When a student creates an Instagram account that is rife with racist statements and images of classmates, are his efforts protected by the First Amendment?

zero-tolerance-at-schoolOne student at Albany High school in Albany, California created such an Instagram account in November 2016. He invited a handful of friends to access the derogatory pictures that he had taken of other students, most of whom were African-American girls. Along with his friends, he made racist comments. Some of his friends “liked” the images.

The Instagram feed was discovered in March 2017. The students who had been targeted by the account were threatened with violence in many of the posts. When school officials reviewed the account, punishments were swift. The account’s creator was expelled in June. Other students received suspensions. An anti-racism rally was held on the day that the suspended students returned. Concurrently, another faction of students decided it was time for a session of “restorative justice.” The suspended students were essentially forced to walk a gauntlet of screaming, angry students, some of whom became violent. One of the students who was returning to school after being suspended had his nose broken in the incident.

The students who were punished for their involvement filed a lawsuit that named the school district, several officials, employees at the school and board members as defendants. Recently, Judge James Donato issued a ruling on part of that lawsuit. He agreed with the defendants’ assertions that the punishments had been reasonable as they were levied by the district in the case of most of the students. However, he ruled that other students who had not targeted specific students with their posts were too harshly punished.

Other claims must be decided in this complex case. When it comes to questions of free speech, it is always best to stay on the side of caution, especially when schools or the workplace are involved.

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How well are anti-bullying policies being implemented in America’s schools? That question is at the heart of a case against Nevada’s Clark County School District. The parents who brought the case say that not only were they not informed about the bullying their sons suffered, but also that school officials did little to investigate or correct the situation.

schoolbullyingMothers Mary Bryan and Aimee Hairr had the assistance of the ACLU when they brought their lawsuit against the district. Their complaint detailed a horrific six months in 2011 during which both of their sons were relentlessly bullied by other students at Greenspun Junior High. According to the plaintiffs, the boys were “physically assaulted, sexually assaulted, harassed, bullied, [and] sexually discriminated against.”

Hairr says that she had no idea what was happening to her son. She knew that he was becoming increasingly withdrawn, wanting to spend time alone in his room rather than with his family. Bryan’s son began being bullied when he stood up for his friend. It was Bryan who eventually overheard the two boys talking about the abuse; neither child told the parents what had been happening to them.

The school also did not disclose the ongoing problem. “We all were in the blind,” said Hairr. Bryan said she would have been satisfied if administrators had been willing to talk to them about the situation before it turned into a lawsuit.

Now, a judge has ruled that the school district must pay $200,000 to each of the families affected by the bullying. Judge Nancy Allf argued in her decision that the school district had failed to protect the boys’ right to due process under the 14th Amendment.

The district may appeal, but it seems as though this case is already changing things. The district’s bullying policy is undergoing changes to make it more effective. However, Bryan and Hairr say that the changes will make little difference unless the district ensures that staff members comply with the policy.

Any anti-bullying policy is only good as far as it is implemented. Proper training and documentation can help districts to avoid lawsuits.

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A former teacher in Illinois has prevailed over his erstwhile employer in court. Bruce Vukadinovich sued the Hanover Community School Corp. for age discrimination, retaliation and violation of due process. Although the court rejected the discrimination and retaliation claims, Vukadinovich was awarded more than $200,000 for the due process claim.

you-are-firedThe story began years ago in a different school district. Back then, Vukadinovich was working for Hammond Schools when he filed a lawsuit against his employer for age discrimination. That lawsuit was settled, and the plaintiff went on to Hanover Central High School. He worked there for eight years until his contract was terminated in a workforce reduction. Vukadinovich sought answers from the district about why he was fired, but couldn’t get a straight answer. That’s when he filed the lawsuit against the Hanover Community School Corp.

The wrinkle is that a school district official who worked for Hammond Schools when Vukadinovich sued that district had recently transferred over to the Hanover Community School Corp. Vukadinovich believed that his firing was an act of retaliation over his earlier successful suit against Hammond Schools.

Several years of litigation followed, with Vukadinovich representing himself against his former employer. A jury and a judge ultimately agreed with the plaintiff that he was denied due process. In his decision, Judge Philip Simon wrote: “To put it bluntly, after several years of presiding over this litigation, including a five day jury trial, I cannot tell you why Vukadinovich was terminated.” The judge went on to say that the jury sympathized with Vukadinovich’s desire to receive a “straight-forward explanation” for his firing.

The judge also took issue with the school district’s claim that they didn’t tell Vukadinovich why he was terminated because he didn’t ask. Arguing that the situation was “not a game of ‘Guess the Reason You’re Being Fired,'” Simon pointed out that the reason should have been disclosed up front so that Vukadinovich could have defended himself.

This case demonstrates the importance of keeping documentation citing all of the reasons for an adverse employment action. Doing so may prevent a lawsuit from being filed.

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A former student in San Diego has been awarded more than $1.25 million stemming from an incident in which she was forced to relieve herself in a bucket.

need-to-pee-118755742-001Back in 2012, the 14 year-old student was in a 25-minute advisory class at Patrick Henry High School when she felt the urgent need to urinate. The short class was designed so students could study. This particular session was being presided over by art teacher Gonja Wolf. Teachers had been told that frequent bathroom breaks would undermine the efficacy of the class. Wolf believed that the school did not allow any bathroom breaks during the advisory class, so she searched for an alternative.

As it happens, Wolf had already invested in a bucket that was intended to provide an alternative to using the bathroom in the case of a lockdown. The teacher admitted to having used the bucket herself when she was working late. Accordingly, she took the student to an adjacent supply closet where she gave her the bucket and instructed her to flush the contents down the sink when she was done.

It wasn’t long before word got out about the incident. Local media had a field day, and the result was that the student was teased relentlessly. An excess of gossip and lewd texts drove the student into depression. An eventual suicide attempt drove her to seek ongoing medical care. Between the media glare and the unwanted attention from fellow students, she was forced to switch schools twice before finally graduating from a charter school.

The girl and her family initially asked the district for $25,000 in compensation, a request that was denied. Nonetheless, officials offered an apology and help for the anguished student. It’s unlikely they imagined that the case would one day be settled in the courtroom, leaving them without $1.25 million in damages plus $41,000 for medical expenses.

District officials say that they may appeal the jury’s decision. Testimony at trial indicated that the district’s teachers are now told to allow bathroom breaks during all periods. Nonetheless, this has been an embarrassing chapter for everyone concerned.

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The ACLU recently reported a disturbing trend in American public schools. Teachers are more frequently turning to student resource officers when it comes to matters of classroom discipline. That’s true when there is a violent threat, but also true when a student is being disruptive or engaging in bullying behavior.

Render illustration of 'YOUTH BULLYING' title on the ground in a police arena. Police concept

Unfortunately, the growing reliance on other authority figures to mete out punishment is having drastic and far-reaching consequences. Many of the kids who are subjected to interaction with a student resource officer soon see their grades begin to plummet, and they are far more likely to drop out of school.

Many school districts now employ a police officer to help provide discipline and security on campus. These student resource officers, or SROs, used to be rare. Only one percent of U.S. schools had an SRO in 1975, but in recent years that number has surged to a police presence that amounts to 24 percent in elementary schools. A full 42 percent of high schools also have at least one SRO on campus.

In California alone during the 2013-2014 school year, 20,000 students received some form of discipline from an SRO. Most of these cases involved minor disruptions and rule infractions, things that teachers might have handled themselves some years ago. Of those 20,000 cases, 9,500 resulted in an arrest. Instead of going through some kind of disciplinary program at the school, these kids ended up in the criminal justice system, doubling their chances of dropping out.

The study also showed that a disproportionate number of students who have police interactions in schools are minorities, have disabilities or come from low-income neighborhoods. This suggests that the use of SROs in the classroom may be unfairly focused on these communities.

Most schools give teachers complete latitude regarding when to request SRO assistance. The ACLU suggests that schools write comprehensive guidelines regarding the circumstances under which SROs should get involved. Moreover, it is recommended that funds be diverted from SROs to the recruitment of counselors and mental health professionals so schools can better deal with disciplinary issues and the causes that underlie them.

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Longtime educator Alan Cohen has sued his former employer after being fired. Cohen was employed for 13 months by Speyer Legacy School, which advertises itself as an institution for intellectually gifted children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. The exclusive private school charges students approximately $40,000 per year to attend.

you are fired 2Cohen spent 20 years working for New York City’s Department of Education before becoming the head of the lower school at the prestigious Portledge School. He made the move to Speyer where he was named the Assistant Head of the school as well as the Head of the lower school. Things appeared to go well. Teachers, administrators, parents and students all took to Cohen. Then, the school’s newly appointed Head Dr. Barbara Tischler told Cohen about another faculty member who was asking questions about Cohen’s sexuality.

Cohen, who happens to be gay, quickly discovered that his sexual orientation was a hot topic of conversation among faculty, administrators and board members. One board member even tried to set up Cohen on a blind date with one of her male friends. Additionally, Dr. Tischler asked Cohen if he could give advice to another administrator at the school. The other administrator was a lesbian, and there was widespread feeling among members of the board that her masculine dress and appearance would render her unsuitable for the Dean of Admissions position.

Cohen brought his concerns over the focus on his sexual orientation to Tischler, but to no avail. In April 2016, Cohen was informed that his contract was not going to be renewed.

Cohen has gone on to find employment at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A married, heterosexual woman now holds his old job at Speyer. Nonetheless, Cohen’s experiences at the exclusive school suggest an atmosphere of discrimination that violates both state and federal law. Situations like this remind employers how important it is to work with an employment law attorney to avoid  discriminatory actions.