Plaintiffs want schools to be liable for ongoing student bullying under Pa. anti-discrimination law

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court

The Commonwealth Court hears cases in the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In a case with statewide implications, plaintiffs will argue before Pa. Commonwealth Court Tuesday that school districts should be subject to the state’s anti-discrimination law when failing to intercede when students are harassed by peers based on classifications such as race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.

The lawsuit centers on the alleged inaction of staff at a Philadelphia elementary school in 2011, where the plaintiff — then an 8 year-old boy — was targeted by classmates who used sexual and racial slurs to demean the student for not conforming to gender norms.

Attorneys for the plaintiff say school leaders knew of the harassment and failed to stop it before it escalated to a brutal sexual assault.

At a hearing in Philadelphia, they will claim that districts should be held liable for such inaction under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which typically protects employees from harassment from superiors.

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The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas previously ruled against plaintiffs in this case. In a different case, the lower court ruled in favor of a bullied student, ordering the School District of Philadelphia to pay $500,000 for a violation of the Human Relations Act.

Onlookers expect the decision in this case to establish precedent.

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