Donovan and Ramelli v. Poway Unified School District

Summary

Megan Donovan and Joey Ramelli were subjected to persistent and severe antigay harassment while they were students at Poway High School. Ramelli endured repeated antigay slurs, was knocked to the ground, slammed into lockers and even found notes threatening his life taped to his car in the school parking lot. Donovan suffered similar harassment, once being attacked by a student in a “Homosexuality Is a Sin” T-shirt. Both reported their harassment to the school principal, but it was not addressed. So they took the school to court. In June 2005, a San Diego jury found that school officials failed to take appropriate action to protect them from harm. The school district and school officials have appealed that decision, and Lambda Legal is representing Donovan and Ramelli on appeal.

Context

The California Education Code states that all students have the right to “participate fully in the educational process, free from discrimination and harassment” and that schools have an “affirmative obligation to combat racism, sexism and other forms of bias.” In addition, the legislature passed the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 to protect gay and lesbian students from harassment and abuse at school. Still, recent surveys indicate that well over 200,000 students in California are harassed every year based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Lambda Legal's Impact

This case is the first ever to hold a school liable for failing to effectively address peer harrasment under the California Education Code. The precedent helps strengthen protections for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students in California. By enforcing protections for LGBTQ students under the antidiscrimination provisions of the state's education code, the decision sends a strong message to school officials throughout California that they must heed state law or pay a high price.

History

  • November 2006 Lambda Legal files a Combined Respondents’ Brief and Cross-Appellants Opening Brief with the California Court of Appeal (Fourth District) to uphold jury verdict finding that school officials were liable to former Poway High School students who had been subjected to relentless antigay harassment.
  • July 2008 Lambda Legal makes oral arguments before the California Court of Appeal, urging the court to uphold the jury decision.
  • October 2008 Victory! California Court of Appeal unanimously upholds the jury verdict, and Lambda Legal reaches a $300,000 settlement on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Case Information

Status: Closed

Plaintiffs

Megan Donovan, Joey Ramelli

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Brian Chase, Hayley Gorenberg

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Paula S. Rosenstein and Bridget J. Wilson of the law firm Rosenstein, Wilson & Dean, PLC, in San Diego