Saturday, December 16, 2006

Federal District Court Rules on Motion to Limit Damages

Peer harassment cases are the worst. See, e.g., the Minnesota federal district court's recent order in AMJ v. Royalton Public Schools, 2006 WL 3626979, which opens this way:
Plaintiff contends that students at Royalton public schools subjected her to almost six years of racial, sexual, sexual orientation, and gender harassment; discrimination; violence; and retaliation. In particular, she claims that the students almost daily made derogatory statements and left notes in her locker, calling her names such as "dyke," "prairie nigger," and "fat fucking whore liar." According to Plaintiff, students also laughed at her Native American culture and traditions. She avers that students physically attacked her as well: smashing her face into the ground, tripping her, grabbing her hair, smearing gravel on her face and in her mouth, spitting on her, and shoving her into lockers and walls. The alleged harassment, discrimination, and violence was so severe that Plaintiff's parents removed her from school for several extended periods. Plaintiff's physician recently ordered her not to attend school because of the adverse effects on her mental health.

Some of the behavior and comments occurred in the presence of school staff, who did not take any action. Plaintiff claims she reported the language and behavior to school administrators dozens of times, but Defendants took no corrective or preventative action. To the contrary, Plaintiff maintains that Defendants blamed her, accused her of lying, taunted her parents, and retaliated against her.
If these allegations prove true, the defendants could be in store for a massive damages award. So they filed a motion to limit damages to $1 million, the maximum damages amount for which they were insured.

The court denied the school district's motion to cap compensatory damages for federal constitutional and statutory claims (Equal Protection Clause, Title IX, and Title VI) at $1 million. The court also decided that Title IX and Title VI do not authorize punitive damages against the school district. But the court has agreed that punitive damages may be awarded against the individual defendants, regardless whether they were acting in their official or their individual capacities when discriminating against the Plaintiff.

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