Phila. School Dist. sued by student harassed for wearing Romney-Ryan shirt

The Philadelphia teenager whose story of disparate treatment due to her wearing a Romney-Ryan political T-shirt to school during the campaign season had gone viral has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia and the teacher whose comments about the article of clothing sparked a controversy. Richard and Kristine Pawlucy recently filed suit on behalf of their daughter, Samantha Pawlucy, whose free speech the plaintiffs claim was violated when the high-schooler was subjected to ridicule for wearing a T-shirt in support of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan. “Despite being protected core-political speech that did not cause a substantial and material disruption, the School District of Philadelphia effectively banned Samantha Pawlucy from expressing her constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free speech because it ordered Samantha Pawlucy to leave the classroom; permitted fellow students to threaten her verbally and physically, and by otherwise subjected [sic] Samantha Pawlucy to emotional distress simply because she exercised her First Amendment rights,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 20 at the U.S. District Court in downtown Philadelphia by attorneys Walter S. Zimolong and Christopher A. Lins of the firm Sigman & Zimolong. According to the complaint, Samantha Pawlucy had worn the pink Romney-Ryan T-shirt to Charles Carroll High School in the city’s Port Richmond neighborhood back on Sept. 28 during a uniform free “dress down” day. The suit claims that upon entering the classroom of geometry teacher Lynette Gaymon, who is the co-defendant in the civil case, the teacher immediately instructed Pawlucy to “get out” because of the political shirt she was donning. Gaymon then told Pawlucy that Charles Carroll was a “Democratic” school, and likened Pawlucy’s wearing of the Romney-Ryan shirt to someone donning a T-shirt in support of the Ku Klux Klan, the suit alleges. When the young Pawlucy refused to leave Gaymon’s classroom, a non-teaching assistant entered the room and instructed the girl to remove the shirt in front of the classroom of approximately 20 students. At this point, the school district representative took a large red marker and attempted to draw an “X” through the logo on the girl’s T-shirt, the suit states. Pawlucy soon told her parents what had occurred, and the school’s principal was contacted by the Pawlucy’s who complained about the treatment by Gaymon. Upon her return to school on Oct. 1, the suit states, Pawlucy was still ridiculed by Gaymon, who told the rest of the class that she would no longer be a fun teacher because their classmate had gotten her in trouble with the district. It was at this point that Pawlucy was allegedly verbally harassed and threatened with physical harm by her fellow students, the complaint reads. The plaintiffs claim that their daughter had worn the Romney-Ryan shirt the entire day on Sept. 28 without incident, and only had a problem at the point she entered Gaymon’s classroom. Any disruptions on that day, the complaint alleges, were caused by Gaymon and other district employees. “Samantha has suffered embarrassment, emotional distress and mental anguish,” the lawsuit states. “The School District’s refusal or inability to assure Samantha’s safety and to permit her to be continually embarrassed, ridiculed, and subjected to emotional distress chills speech that is protected by the First Amendment.” Pawlucy, the suit claims, has not returned to Charles Carroll High because of the distress she endured throughout and after the T-shirt incident. In addition to the civil rights claims, the lawsuit also contains counts of defamation and false light. The plaintiffs demand judgment in excess of $75,000, together with attorney’s fees, costs, interest and unspecified punitive damages.   The federal case number 2:12-cv-07134-EL.

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