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More families suing over bullying

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Bullying victims and their families have increasingly turned to the legal system for recourse

Mike Wiser
Published: April 29 2012 | 3:10 pm – Updated: 3 April 2014 | 5:28 pm in

DES MOINES — In the days following her son’s suicide, Jeannie Chambers told a television reporter from Sioux City’s KITV that she wasn’t sure if she wanted charges filed against the classmates who bullied her boy.

Chambers’ son, Kenneth Weishuhn, was 14-years-old when he killed himself April 15. His death inspired rallies and candlelight vigils across the state and reignited a debate about bullying, responsibility and liability.

Chambers’ reason behind her indecisiveness seemed altruistic. She told the interviewer she didn’t want another mother to lose a child.

But bullying victims and their families have increasingly turned to the legal system for recourse. They’re going beyond pushing for criminal charges and civil penalties against bullies: they’re taking on school systems — and winning.

“In general, more of these types of lawsuits are being filed, and the courts are coming out with stronger opinions,” said Sam Wolfe, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center who specializes in civil rights cases.

“There’s also an overall societal consciousness about bullying and the lawsuits in general, so that’s another reason why it could seem they are happening more frequently,” Wolfe said.

Deserved it

In 1994, Jamie Nabozny sued his Ashland, Wis., school district with the help of attorneys from Lambda Legal, claiming the district didn’t do enough to stop other students from harassing him because of his sexual orientation, despite pleas.

In one incident, Nabozny was beaten outside the school library by a group of students, causing internal bleeding that led to a hospital stay for the teen. When he reported the beating to a school official, according to court documents, “the school official supposedly in charge of disciplining, laughed and told Nabozny that Nabozny deserved such treatment because he is gay.”

In 1996, the federal appeals court overturned a lower court decision and found that the school district was liable in the case. The district offered an out-of-court $900,000 settlement, which Nabozny accepted.

It was a landmark case that gave advocacy groups a cudgel to use against non-responsive school districts.

Since then, actions have been brought against school districts in New York, Minnesota and California that resulted in them paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars and/or agreeing to additional staff training and policy changes.

“Lawsuits are a last resort in severe cases where school districts are not living up to their responsibilities,” Andy Mara, public relations manager for the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, said in an email statement. “But lawsuits indicate that the system is broken, and all parties have already lost in some sense.”

Going forward

Weishuhn was a student at South O’Brien High School in Paullina. School officials have been careful about talking publicly about his death even as the story has drawn national attention.

Read more: http://thegazette.com/2012/04/29/more-families-suing-over-bullying/#ixzz2ziEZ6TWa

Parent Files Lawsuit over School Bullying

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Claims 9-Year-Old Son with Medical Condition Suffered Harassment for Wearing Diapers to Class

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Liliana Alvarez, the mother of a 9-year-old Roosevelt Elementary School student, is suing the Santa Barbara Unified School District because administrators and school staff allegedly neglected to relocate her son to a new campus after he reportedly experienced several years of bullying, emotional abuse, harassment, and discrimination. Alvarez’s son has to wear diapers to school because he suffers from intestinal problems and lacks control over his urinary and bowel movements.

Alvarez became frustrated with Roosevelt after her son’s classmates discovered he wore diapers to kindergarten even though she intended for the information to be kept a secret, according to Alvarez’s lawyer, Matt Clarke with law firm Christman Kelley & Clarke. Kids teased her son at school and shouted things like, “Hey fat brown boy, you stink,” the legal filing reads. Alvarez’s son reportedly came home crying and said he did not want to return to school. Alvarez claims his teachers and school staff failed to intervene and, at times, escalated the problem.

In one incident in 2010, a school medical assistant repeatedly called the plaintiff to come and get her son — referred to as John Doe in legal filings — because he had soiled his pants. But when Alvarez arrived at the school, the court filing reads, school representatives told her that “it was just a mistake,” and that another child had passed gas near her son and yelled, “John Doe pooped in his pants!” As similar incidents continued to occur, Alvarez claims her son told her, “Nobody likes or wants me here in school,” and, “I want to kill myself.”

Alvarez said she eventually went to Superintendent Dave Cash to discuss the problem after claiming Roosevelt Principal Donna Ronzone shirked her duties and, the court filing states, “responded that Plaintiff should be the one taking care of John Doe; come to school with him, stay with him every minute, so that the children would not bully him.” Alvarez claims Cash said he would address the problem but that he and Assistant Superintendent Emilio Handall did not transfer her son to another school and instead simply moved him to a different classroom at Roosevelt.

Click here to read more.

BILL ANALYSIS AND FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT for BILL: CS/CS/SB 548

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The Florida Senate
BILL ANALYSIS AND FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT
(This document is based on the provisions contained in the legislation as of the latest date listed below.)
Prepared By: The Professional Staff of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice

BILL: CS/CS/SB 548
INTRODUCER: Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice; Criminal Justice
Committee; and Senator Simmons
SUBJECT: Bullying
DATE: March 6, 2014

ANALYST STAFF DIRECTOR REFERENCE ACTION
1. Dugger Cannon CJ Fav/CS
2. Clodfelter Sadberry ACJ Fav/CS
3. AP

Please see Section IX. for Additional Information:
COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE – Technical Changes

I. Summary:
CS/CS/SB 548 creates a criminal statute penalizing bullying and aggravated bullying. The newly
created statute provides a second degree misdemeanor penalty1
for bullying and a first degree
misdemeanor penalty2
for aggravated bullying. Cyberbullying is included in each new crime.
The elements of these two new offenses and the definitions provided in the bill are the same as
the elements and definitions in the stalking statute (found to be constitutional by the Florida
Supreme Court in 1995).

The Criminal Justice Impact Conference has determined that the bill will have an insignificant
impact on the need for prison beds.
II. Present Situation:
Bullying Statute
Florida law requires each district school board to adopt a policy prohibiting bullying and
harassment in district schools.3
Violation of these policies can result in school disciplinary

1
Punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a potential fine up to $500. Sections 75.082 and 775.083, F.S.
2
Punishable by up to one year in jail and a potential fine up to $1,000.Sections 775.082 and 775.083, F.S.
3
Section 1006.147, F.S.
REVISED:

BILL: CS/CS/SB 548 Page 2

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BILL ANALYSIS AND FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT for BILL: SB 548

Posted on

The Florida Senate
BILL ANALYSIS AND FISCAL IMPACT STATEMENT
(This document is based on the provisions contained in the legislation as of the latest date listed below.)
Prepared By: The Professional Staff of the Committee on Criminal Justice

BILL: SB 548
INTRODUCER: Senator Simmons
SUBJECT: Bullying
DATE: February 4, 2014

ANALYST STAFF DIRECTOR REFERENCE ACTION
1. Dugger Cannon CJ Pre-meeting
2. ACJ
3. AP

I. Summary:
SB 548 creates a criminal statute penalizing bullying and aggravated bullying. The newly created
statute provides a first degree misdemeanor penalty1
for bullying and a third degree felony
penalty2
for aggravated bullying. Cyberbullying is included in each new crime. The elements of
these two new offenses and the definitions provided in the bill are the same as the elements and
definitions in the stalking statute (found to be constitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in
1995).
II. Present Situation:

Florida law requires each district school board to adopt a policy prohibiting bullying and
harassment in district schools.3
Violation of these policies can result in school disciplinary
actions being taken. Among other things, the law prohibits the bullying or harassment of any
public K-12 student or employee during a public K-12 education program or activity; during a
school-related or school-sponsored program or activity; on a public K-12 school bus; through a
computer, computer system, or computer network that is within the scope of a public K-12

 

 

The law defines “bullying” as systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or
psychological distress on one or more students, which may involve teasing; social exclusion;
threat; intimidation; stalking; physical violence; theft; sexual, religious, or racial harassment;
public humiliation; or destruction of property. It includes “cyberbullying” and defines it as
bullying through the use of specified technology or electronic communications; the creation of a
webpage or weblog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person or the knowing
impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages; or the distribution
by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an
electronic medium that is accessible to others.5
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Florida CS/SB 548: Bullying

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CS/SB 548: Bullying
GENERAL BILL by Criminal Justice ; Simmons ; (CO-INTRODUCERS) Soto

Bullying; Providing that a person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another person commits the offense of bullying, etc.

Effective Date: 10/1/2014
Last Action: 3/7/2014 Senate – Now in Appropriations -SJ 207
Location: In committee/council (AP)
Bill Text: Web Page | PDF

By Senator Simmons

10-00810-14 2014548__
1 A bill to be entitled
2 An act relating to bullying; creating s. 784.049,
3 F.S.; defining terms; providing that a person who
4 willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or
5 cyberbullies another person commits the offense of
6 bullying; providing that a person who willfully,
7 maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies
8 another person and makes a credible threat to that
9 person commits the offense of aggravated bullying;
10 providing criminal penalties; providing an effective
11 date.
12

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Florida HB 451: Bullying

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HB 451: Bullying

GENERAL BILL by Fitzenhagen ; Williams, A. ; (CO-INTRODUCERS) Campbell ; Clelland ; Pilon

Bullying; Provides that person who willfully, maliciously, & repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another person commits offense of bullying; provides that person who willfully, maliciously, & repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another person & makes credible threat to that person commits offense of aggravated bullying.

Effective Date: 10/1/2014
Last Action: 3/4/2014 House – Introduced -HJ 39
Location: In committee/council (CRJS)
Bill Text: PDF

 

HB 451 2014

CODING: Words stricken are deletions; words underlined are additions.
hb0451-00
Page 1 of 2
F L O R I D A  H O U S E  O F  R E P R E S E N T A T I V E S

1 A bill to be entitled
2 An act relating to bullying; creating s. 784.049,
3 F.S.; defining terms; providing that a person who
4 willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or
5 cyberbullies another person commits the offense of
6 bullying; providing that a person who willfully,
7 maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies
8 another person and makes a credible threat to that
9 person commits the offense of aggravated bullying;
10 providing criminal penalties; providing an effective
11 date.
12

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ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT FOR EMPLOYERS: Will Florida’s Anti-Bullying Law criminalize workplace bullying?

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Posted by Maria Mangicaro
Bullying Prevention Advocate
mangicaro829@aol.com

 

Currently, Florida has one of the best-written and most comprehensive anti-bullying laws in the nation.   In 2008, Florida’s legislature unanimously passed the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act” (Fl. Stat. section 1006.147), and it was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist on June 10, 2008.

Named after bully victim Jeffrey Johnston, the education law requires every Florida school to develop anti-bullying policies that include punishment and counseling for students who bully their peers.   In 2005, Jeffrey killed himself after enduring three years of bullying via the internet and phone by a classmate.  After his death, Jeffrey’s mother Debbie, herself a Florida elementary school teacher, became a strong advocate for state legislation to prohibit bullying and cyber-bullying under Florida law. She led an effort spanning three years to get anti-bullying legislation passed in Florida.

In a further effort to call attention to bullying being escalated by electronic devices, earlier this year Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 609), expanding the scope of the law to include “cyberbullying”.  Under the July 1st, revisions, school administrators now have the authority to reach beyond school grounds.  If cyberbullying “substantially” interferes with or disrupts the educational process, administrators may now regulate and punish it — even when it originates on a computer or device off campus.

To the best of my knowledge, Florida lawmakers failed to provide our schools with additional funding to support proactive bullying and cyberbullying prevention programs in our schools.

Because of the spreading epidemic of alleged bullying among students, our lawmakers are currently considering a law that will criminalize bullying.

Rebecca’s Law,  named after 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick who committed suicide after alleged victimization by bullying, will provide legal consequences for those who are found guilty of bullying.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen sponsored the bill that will provide criminal penalties for someone who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or “cyberbullies” another person, which would be a first degree misdemeanor.  If a credible threat is determined to have taken place it would be considered aggravated bullying, a 3rd degree felony.

Our lawmakers have a narrow focus on making bullying behavior among our youth a crime, while failing to consider bullying is an ongoing problem among adults as well.

Florida citizens should consider what impact the criminalization of bullying will have in other settings.

Employers must consider the potential legal actions that may be taken where there are accusations and evidence of workplace bullying.

If you are an employer or please consider the information and resources provided by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI).

“The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) is the first and only U.S. organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying.  WBI combines help for individuals, research, books, public education, training for professionals-unions-employers, legislative advocacy, and consulting solutions for organizations to prevent and correct workplace bullying.”
Click here to visit the WBI website.

Print

 

According to reports, 35% of the U.S. workforce report being bullied at work. 

March 2nd, 2012

LA Times: California physician assistant wins $168 million in harassment suit

 

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2012

Ani Chopourian told of sexually inappropriate conduct, bullying and retaliation at a Sacramento hospital. The award is believed to be the largest for a single victim of workplace harassment in U.S. history.

Ani Chopourian lost track of how many complaints she filed during the two years she worked as a physician assistant at Sacramento’s Mercy General Hospital.

There were at least 18, she recalled, many having to do with the bullying surgeon who once stabbed her with a needle and broke the ribs of an anesthetized heart patient in a fit of rage. Another surgeon, she said, would greet her each morning with “I’m horny” and slap her bottom. Yet another called her “stupid chick” in the operating room and made disparaging remarks about her Armenian heritage, asking if she had joined Al Qaeda.

Managers from Mercy General, a unit of Catholic Healthcare West, told a Sacramento trial court that it was Chopourian who was guilty of professional misconduct, which was why they fired her and tried to deny her unemployment benefits.

But in a stunning rebuke of the hospital’s side of the story, a jury Wednesday awarded Chopourian $168 million in damages, believed to be the largest judgment for a single victim of workplace harassment in U.S. history.

“They were just shocked by the whole workplace environment,” said Lawrance Bohm, Chopourian’s attorney during the three-week trial in which witness after witness depicted a culture of vulgarity and arrogance they said humiliated female employees and put patients at risk.

Click here to read more at WBI.

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