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Justice Dept. settles with school district in suit involving boy who didn't conform to gender stereotypes

News release from the U.S. Justice Department:

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced today that it has reached an out-of-court settlement in the matter of J.L. v. Mohawk Central School District, a lawsuit which the United States sought to join to address alleged violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, both of which prohibit discrimination based on sex, including discrimination based on gender stereotypes.

On Jan. 14, 2010, in the Northern District of New York, the United States sought to join a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a student, J.L., who was the alleged victim of severe and pervasive student-on-student harassment based on sex.  According to the United States’ motion, J.L. failed to conform to gender stereotypes in both behavior and appearance.  He exhibited feminine mannerisms, dyed his hair, wore makeup and nail polish, and maintained predominantly female friendships.  The United States alleged that the harassment against J.L. escalated from derogatory name-calling to physical threats and violence. 

The United States further alleged that the Mohawk Central School District had knowledge of the harassment, that the school district was deliberately indifferent in its failure to take timely, corrective action, and that the deliberate indifference restricted J.L.’s ability to fully enjoy the educational opportunities and benefits of his school.  The district denied these allegations.

The settlement among the United States, private plaintiff and the district was approved yesterday by the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York and requires the Mohawk Central School District to, among other things:  (1) retain an expert consultant in the area of harassment and discrimination based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation to review the District’s policies and procedures; (2) develop and implement a comprehensive plan for disseminating the District’s harassment and discrimination policies and procedures; (3) retain an expert consultant to conduct annual training for faculty and staff, and students as deemed appropriate by the expert, on discrimination and harassment based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation; (4) maintain records of investigations and responses to allegations of harassment for five years; and (5) provide annual compliance reports to the United States and private plaintiffs.  As part of this settlement, $50,000 will be paid to J.L. and $25,000 in attorneys’ fees will be paid to the New York Civil Liberties Foundation. 

“All students have the right to go to school without fearing harassment based on sex, including stereotypes about appropriate gender behavior,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Such conduct has no place in our schools, and the Justice Department looks forward to working with the District and the NYCLU to ensure that all students enjoy educational opportunities without discrimination or harassment.”

The enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX in school districts is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its Web site at http://www.justice.gov/crt.

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