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Student’s mother said school ignored bullying of her daughter

Amount:

$100,000

Type:

Settlement

State:

New Jersey

Venue:

Camden County

Court:

Camden County Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

back; knee; mental/psychological-anxiety

Case Type:

Civil Rights; Discrimination – Sex, Gender, Disability; School – Negligent Supervision

Case Name:

J.R. by her parent and guardian J.T. v. Brooklawn Board of Education,
No. CAM-L-4761-14

Date:

September 20, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

J. R. (Female, 9 Years), 

J. T. (Female)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Drake P. Bearden;
Costello & Mains, LLC;
Mt. Laurel,
NJ,
for
J. R., J. T.

Defendant(s):

Brooklawn Board of Education

Defense Attorney(s):

Mitchell S. Berman;
Law Offices of Mitchell S. Berman;
Vineland,
NJ,
for
Brooklawn Board of Education

Facts:

In 2012, minor plaintiff J.R., 9, attended fourth grade at the Alice Costello School, an elementary school in the borough of Brooklawn. Beginning on the first day of school and continuing throughout the school year, three other fourth-graders routinely harassed and bullied J. R. by calling her obscene names, according to J.R. and her mother. J.R.’s mother said that she complained to school officials about this behavior but there was no change in the situation. The following September, the verbal attacks by the three students worsened and the confrontations escalated to include physical violence, whereby J.R. was on more than one occasion slapped with sufficient force to cause her to fall down. The complaint described an incident during fifth grade where the three students took J.R. to a secluded area of the playground and slapped her, punched her, and kicked her in the groin. They allegedly lifted her up and dropped her to the ground On Dec. 15, 2014, the fourth month of the sixth grade, J.R.’s mother sued the Brooklawn Board of Education on her daughter’s behalf, asserting violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The alleged violations comprised gender discrimination, failure to accommodate and discrimination based on a disability. According to the complaint, J.R. was discriminated against based on her gender, because of the type of insults, which were directed at her as a female. The claim of failure to accommodate was based on the allegation that the school nurse would not permit J.R. to take anxiety medication prescribed by her doctor to help her cope with the bullying, notwithstanding J.R.’s mother’s requests that school officials intervene. The claim of discrimination based on a disability was founded on a assertion that the anxiety that J.R. suffered was a result of the bullying, and therefore was a disability within the meaning of the law. The nurse’s refusal to allow J.R. to take the medication was done with intent to discriminate against her disability. The lawsuit further claimed that J.R.’s gym teacher refused to take her out of class so that she could be away from two of the three students who were bullying her. The lawsuit sought injunctive relief in the form of protecting J.R. from bullying and harassment in the future, and promulgating rules, policies, and procedures to abate the complained of conduct. J.R.’s mother maintained that she had insisted that teachers and school officials to do something about the bullying, but they refused. Moreover, the school district’s assistant superintendent refused to even meet with her. Counsel for the school argued that J.R.’s mother’s perception of what was occurring at school was not consistent with observations by the school’s trained staff, who were willing and able to react appropriately to any incidents of bullying that might occur.

Injury:

J.R. allegedly suffered anxiety as a result of the bullying, and she was prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Under school policy, medication to students during the school day was to be administered by a school nurse. J.R.’s prescription called for the administration of the anti-anxiety drug whenever she started to feel symptoms of anxiety. The complaint alleged that the nurse refused to give J.R. her medication because the nurse felt that J.R. was using the anxiety pills as a crutch; that her anxiety was not real and she was simply looking for attention. The nurse also allegedly told J.R. that she did not want her to become a “pill popper.” After being refused her medication, J.R. allegedly became so anxious that she would go into the bathroom by herself and cry. J.R. claimed that in March 2014, her anxiety became so severe that she told the school nurse that if she did not receive her medication she was going to harm herself. The lawsuit asserted that when the nurse continued to refuse J.R. her medication, J.R. attempted to harm herself and required admission to a crisis center. As a result of the fifth-grade playground incident, J.R. claimed she incurred significant bruising on her back and a knee. Through her mother, she sought compensatory and punitive damages and equitable relief compelling the school to do better by similarly situated students. The school’s counsel maintained that J.R. was overly anxious, and her anxiety issues transcended anything that was occurring in school as a result of her interactions with other students.

Result:

The school’s counsel agreed to settle for $100,000. There was no admission of wrongdoing on the part of the school and there was no provision in the settlement for equitable relief.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel declined to contribute.