Toolbox Tuesday!!  Liability for bullying?

The latest hazing/bullying scandal in the national headlines is at Northwestern University.  The football coach has been sacked, and I’m sure the University and some of its personnel will be mired in litigation for years to come.  Public schools, of course, can also be sued if bullying or hazing occurs and the school fails to address it properly.  A district in Utah recently settled a case for a reported $2 million.

The allegations in a case from New Jersey are less shocking than the ones at Northwestern. In fact, “bullying” is probably not the right word to describe what was alleged.  Bullying is a student-to-student matter, whereas the case in Jersey alleged that the student was “bullied” and harassed by her guidance counselor via numerous comments to the effect that the student was faking her health and anxiety problems to avoid attending school.

The school responded to this promptly and effectively.  The principal immediately appointed a different counselor to work with the student and investigated the original counselor for bullying.  The counselor denied any wrongdoing and the investigation concluded that there was no bullying or harassment.  Nevertheless, the parent suedthe district, the principal, the assistant principal, the counselor and the district’s bullying coordinator.

Based upon the school’s swift and thorough response, the court held that no reasonable jury could conclude that the district failed to address the issue.  The court therefore ruled in favor of the district and its employees. The court also dismissed the claim under the state’s Anti-Bullying Act, noting that it did not authorize a private right of action.  The Texas anti-bullying law, David’s Law, has a similar provision. 

It's C.S. v. Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District BOE, decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, and cited at 82 IDELR 165.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at

Tomorrow: where are we on dress codes?