Jury selection has been tentatively scheduled for June 2018 in the case of Tammy and Russell Bittenbender, who claim their daughter suffered extensive abuse while she was a public-school student in Bangor, Pa., because she was perceived to be a lesbian.
Bangor is in Northampton County, about 32 miles north of Allentown.
The Bittenbenders’ lawsuit, filed in 2015, contends that eight students constantly harassed and abused their daughter, “S.B.,” for about five years. S.B. allegedly was called “lesbian,” “gay,” “whore,” “slut” and “fag” by her harassers.
Complaints about the alleged abuse were made to appropriate authorities to no avail, according to the suit.
The Bittenbenders allege Bangor school-district officials violated Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. They seek more than $150,000 in damages, noting their daughter suffered severe emotional distress due to the alleged abuse.
Eventually, S.B. transferred to a school in New Jersey, where she reportedly is doing better.
In defense filings, attorneys for the school district requested that the case be dismissed. They referred to the alleged verbal abuse as “stray remarks” that didn’t establish severe and pervasive harassment, even if some of the remarks had a sexual connotation.
“[R]elevant case law overwhelmingly supports the supposition that schoolyard bullying does not become actionable under Title IX just because of the use of sexualized language,” defense attorneys wrote in a filing.
But earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel declined to dismiss the case. In a nine-page ruling, Stengel said S.B. allegedly suffered pervasive and lengthy school-based abuse. The judge also noted that complaints allegedly were made to appropriate authorities to no avail.
Jury selection is tentatively set for 9:30 a.m. June 4 at the U.S. Court House, 601 Market St. in Philadelphia. A trial will be held in Courtroom A of the U.S. Court House in Allentown before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin.
Neither side had a comment for this story.
Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, expressed optimism that S.B. would have her day in court.
“If the allegations are proven to be true, the young lady deserves compensation for being denied equal educational opportunity and for emotional distress,” Robinette told PGN. “LGBT gender-stereotyping claims have been more successful when the harassment occurs at school, rather than at work. It’s well-settled under Title IX.”
Stengel found the student’s claims plausible, thus the case could move forward, Robinette added.
“The court disagreed with the school’s arguments that the alleged harassment was not ‘severe or pervasive’ and that the alleged victim didn’t report the alleged harassment properly. Ultimately, the judge gave S.B. an opportunity to prove her case, and she is one step closer to trial.”