For Immediate Release: September 22, 2020
Contact: David Berney; Berney & Sang; 215.564.1030; firstname.lastname@example.org
Pennsylvania Supreme Court vindicates children’s rights
Holds that bullying victims have until 6 months after their 18th birthday to bring discrimination claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Philadelphia, PA.: Last week, in a long-awaited decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that bullying victims have until six months after their 18th birthday to bring discrimination complaints under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
The successful appeal in the case Nicole B. v. School District of Philadelphia challenged the short time window children have to file a complaint under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The normal deadline for adults is six months. Whether that six-month time period is “tolled” – or paused – for a child was an open question.
The lawsuit arises from a fourth grader’s horrifying experiences at the William C. Bryant School in West Philadelphia where he was bullied, harassed, and ultimately raped. The harassment started in 2011 when three classmates started bullying the boy because he did not conform to male stereotypes. The bullying was also racially charged. Every day the classmates called him names like “fa****,” “homo,” “b****,” “d*** eater,” “and n****r.” They beat him, kicked him, and threatened to kill him. They forced him to watch a video of two men having sex and to simulate sex with a flagpole while onlooking students laughed.
When school officials failed to intervene, the classmates continued to harass the boy, and ultimately raped him in a school bathroom. Busy addressing the emotional fallout, the parent did not file a PHRA complaint within six months. After the rape, Berney & Sang, a civil rights law firm, filed a lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia alleging that the District violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) by ignoring the harassment.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ruled that the administrative complaint was untimely because of the six-month statute of limitations, and the Commonwealth Court affirmed. But the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling.
“We are thrilled with the Supreme Court’s decision,” said David J. Berney, the lead attorney on the case. “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recognized how unfair it is to demand that a child’s claims be filed within six months when many children do not even disclose the abuse within six months, let alone have parents who think to file a complaint within that time period. This is a great victory for children.”
“We know from our work that many schoolchildren subject to pervasive discriminatory harassment based on race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability,” said Kristina Moon, staff attorney at the Education Law Center, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “Unfortunately the harassment of students of color and students who are gay, bisexual, or transgender and kids who don’t conform to sex stereotypes has increased, and it’s too often treated less seriously by school officials than the bullying of their white, straight, gender-conforming peers. By recognizing that minor children should not be subjected to a short, 180-day statute of limitations in filing claims with the PA Human Relations Commission, the court has affirmed the right of students and former students to challenge wrongful racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and other discriminatory conduct in schools.” Joining in that amicus brief were Juvenile Law Center, Public Interest Law Center, Women’s Law Project, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and Professor Emily Suski. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the Coalition Against Rape also filed amicus briefs.
David Berney; Berney & Sang; 215.564.1030; email@example.com