Lambda Legal Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Lesbian Student Who Left Holmdel High School in New Jersey Fearing for Her Safety
Persistent antigay harassment continued without school taking effective measures to stop it.
(Holmdel, NJ, September 7, 2005) — At a press conference today, Lambda Legal announced a lawsuit filed with the Superior Court of New Jersey in Monmouth County on behalf of a lesbian student who was verbally and physically attacked for two and a half years in Holmdel High School. While the abuse was brought to the school administration’s attention time and again, no effective measures were taken by the school to end it.
The plaintiff, Nancy Wadington, 18, attended Holmdel High School until the middle of eleventh grade when she had to leave the school to protect her safety. For nearly three years, other students had verbally harassed her, threw bottles and other objects at her, pushed her down a flight of stairs, and stole and destroyed her books and backpacks — on one occasion urinating inside her backpack. Though both Nancy and her mother approached the school’s administration seeking assistance, they failed to stop the harassment.
“It is an atrocity that school officials would ignore laws in New Jersey which are touted as being the most comprehensive nondiscrimination laws on the books,” said Alphonso David, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal and an attorney on the case. “Holmdel High School failed horribly in its duty to protect Nancy Wadington and there is no excuse for it. Hopefully this lawsuit serves as a further wake-up call to schools that they cannot ignore antigay harassment and abuse.”
Based on the fears for her safety, Nancy stopped using the restrooms at school, forcing herself to go to the bathroom only before and after school, despite abdominal pain. She also stopped using the school’s locker rooms, wearing her gym clothes to and from school. She further avoided the dangerous hallways between classes and instead often walked outside the building, even in the cold and rain, to find an entry door closest to her next class.
The lawsuit is based on the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in all places of public accommodation including schools. This case is a continuation of Lambda Legal’s work on behalf of youth in school. In 1996, Lambda Legal won a landmark victory in Nabozny vs. Podlesny, in which a Wisconsin student was the victim of antigay harassment at school — the case set the precedent holding schools accountable when they fail to protect their students from antigay harassment.
“For me, going to school was about being humiliated. It was not about getting an education,” said plaintiff Nancy Wadington. “It was my school’s responsibility to provide me with a safe learning environment, but instead they effectively ignored the harassment I was experiencing and left me to defend myself. I am not the only person to have unnecessarily been harassed because of their sexual orientation and I am here to say that we cannot just be silenced and swept under the rug.”
Last year Lambda Legal launched an ongoing public education campaign about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. That campaign, called “Out, Safe and Respected,” features television and radio public service announcements and a “tool kit” for use by students.
Lambda Legal is joined on the case by cooperating attorneys at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, LLP. That team includes Robert Del Tufo, a former Attorney General of New Jersey, who was in office when the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination was amended in 1993 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Also joining the case from Skadden is David Springer, who was lead trial counsel in Lambda Legal’s landmark 1996 victory in Nabozny vs. Podlesny. Lambda Legal’s David Buckel and Skadden’s Mary Ann Le Fort are also assisting on the case.