School district incurs $2 million in legal expenses in bullying cases

School district incurs $2 million in legal expenses in bullying cases

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The School District of Philadelphia has incurred more than $2 million in legal expenses defending against lawsuits filed by two students who claim they experienced unlawful student-on-student bullying because of their perceived gender nonconformity.

In April 2014, the mother of a male student identified as “N.B.” filed suit in Common Pleas Court, claiming the district was liable for unlawful bullying sustained by her son.

According to court records, N.B. was raped by a classmate at the William C. Bryant Elementary School in West Philadelphia in October 2011. Prior to being raped, N.B. had been subjected to pervasive bullying by classmates who perceived him to be gender-nonconforming.

N.B.’s mother promptly withdrew N.B. from the school after he told her about the rape. But she missed a deadline for filing a complaint with the state Human Relations Commission by more than a year. District officials are seeking dismissal of the case, citing the missed deadline, according to court records.

In April 2015, A.W. filed suit against the district, claiming pervasive bullying at various schools due to her perceived gender nonconformity. In May, Common Pleas Judge Gene D. Cohen sided with A.W. and awarded her $500,000 in damages, to be paid by the district.  The judge also awarded A.W. $578,000 in legal fees, to be paid by the district, according to court records.

The A.W. and N.B. lawsuits allege violations of the state Human Relations Act on the part of district officials. But district officials contend the act doesn’t cover student-on-student bullying. Both cases are pending in Commonwealth Court, where that issue is expected to be addressed, according to court records.

In the A.W. case, two outside law firms retained by the district to handle the case submitted bills to the district totaling $405,823.54. The Fineman Krekstein law firm billed the district $366,624.61. The Schnader Harrison law firm billed the district $39,198.93.

In the N.B. case, six outside law firms retained by the district to handle the case submitted bills to the district totaling $801,688.80. The Archer Greiner law firm billed the district $186,909.24; the Fineman Krekstein law firm billed $448,444.46; the Kolber Randazzo law firm billed $95,505.84; the Wilson Elser Moskovitz law firm billed $25,683.26; the Schnader Harrison law firm billed $40,000; and the Ahmed Zaffarese law firm billed $5,146.

PGN obtained the billing information from the school district on Dec. 6, after filing a state Right-to-Know Law request.

Lee Whack, a spokesman for the school district, declined to comment on the pending litigation.

David J. Berney, an attorney for N.B. and A.W., blasted the school district in a Dec. 6 email to PGN.

“The district originally failed N.B. and [A.W.] by allowing them to be the victims of sexual assault, bullying and harassment,” Berney wrote. “How much more money is the district going to spend to battle for a court decision that permits the district and its staff to ignore children who are victimized at school? Does that make sense? How many teacher salaries could they pay with the money they are spending on legal fees?  How many school supplies could they purchase?

“The district’s litigation strategy is reckless, irresponsible and a total abdication of its duty to do what is right by the children who grace their schools.” 


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