Lambda Legal Applauds Decision by New Jersey Supreme Court to Protect Students from Antigay Harassment
(New York, February 21, 2007) — Today, Lambda Legal applauds a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, finding that if a school is aware or should be aware of harassment of students based on sexual orientation, it is obligated to act to end the harassment.
"This is a wake up call for school districts around the state to take appropriate action to stop antigay harassment by students," said Alphonso David, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. "It is the school district’s obligation to stop student-on-student harassment in pursuit of a safe learning environment, and today’s decision has set the standard by which a safe learning environment must be measured."
"It’s common sense that students do not learn when they face constant harassment," David added.
In its unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Zazzali, the court said: “Because of the Act’s [the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD)] plain language, its broad remedial goal, and the prevalent nature of peer sexual harassment, we conclude that the LAD permits a cause of action against a school district for student-on-student harassment based on an individual’s perceived sexual orientation if the school district’s failure to reasonably address that harassment has the effect of denying to that student any of a school’s ‘accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges.’”
The case is L.W. v. Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education. L.W. suffered severe and pervasive harassment in middle and high school by other students because of his perceived and/or actual sexual orientation. Ultimately, the harassment led L.W. to withdraw from his high school and enroll elsewhere. L.W.’s mother filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights alleging that the school district violated the LAD because her son had been repeatedly subjected to harassment by other students. The case was appealed all the way up to the New Jersey Supreme Court resulting in today’s opinion.
Lambda Legal litigated the first case in the country seeking to protect students from antigay harassment in school. That landmark victory was Nabozny v. Podlesny and resulted in a settlement of nearly one million dollars. Lambda Legal continues to have an active youth and schools docket.
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Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.