A Berks County high school student who was suspended after district officials discovered a videotaped consensual sexual encounter between the plaintiff and his former girlfriend has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the district and various administrators.
Bechtelsville, Pa. attorney Eric Winter filed the civil action Oct. 18 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Anders Hemdal, a junior at Schuylkill Valley High School.
The lawsuit names as defendants the Schuylkill Valley School District, district Superintendent Solomon Lausch, high school Principal David Haughney and Assistant Principal Joshua Kuehner.
The basic allegation in the complaint is that the defendants punished Hemdal with a four-day suspension after they discovered a secretly recorded sex tape involving the plaintiff and his then-girlfriend that depicted a consensual sexual encounter between the two students during a school trip to Morocco.
The intimate encounter occurred on April 6 of this year, two days before the end of the weeklong class trip.
Unbeknownst to the plaintiff and his girlfriend, another student had secretly recorded the sexual encounter on a cellphone, with the recording eventually making its way to other students, the suit states.
Hemdal eventually disclosed the existence of the tape to his parents, who in turn attempted to seek the assistance of school officials to help protect Hemdal from further harm caused by the release of the videotape.
Instead, the lawsuit claims, Hemdal and his parents were told the plaintiff would be subject to a four-day out-of-school suspension because Hemdal committed a “Level 2 major offense.”
The decision to punish Hemdal had been made by defendant Lausch, the superintendent, the complaint alleges, although the administrator told Hemdal’s parents that he did not have to justify or explain how the decision to suspend the student was reached.
The school district eventually informed Hemdal’s attorney that the plaintiff was being disciplined for “disorderly conduct,” although the plaintiff claims he did not commit disorderly conduct as it is defined under Pennsylvania law.
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that Hemdal didn’t violate the school’s code of conduct, which does not place any restrictions or prohibitions on consensual sexual contact between students when that conduct does not occur on school grounds.
The lawsuit also claims that a form that was given to Hemdal for the student to sign stated that participants on the school trip who had sexual conduct could be sent home, but it never said anything about further discipline being imposed for such sexual conduct.
This form, however, wasn’t provided to the plaintiff and his parents until after Hemdal returned from the trip, the suit claims.
The lawsuit also states that the defendants claimed the plaintiff had received less than the recommended discipline under school district guidelines because Hemdal was assisting local police in their investigation with regard to who secretly recorded the sexual encounter.
The lawsuit contains various civil rights and due process violations, as well as counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and invasion of privacy, and refusing or neglecting to prevent such deprivations and denials to the plaintiff.
“Defendants had power to prevent or aid in preventing the commission of said wrongs, could have done so by reasonable diligence, and knowingly, recklessly, or with gross negligence failed or refused to do so,” the lawsuit states.
Under the invasion of privacy count, the lawsuit states that while it was appropriate for the defendants to make other school district officials aware of the fact that a video was being circulated among the students depicting minors having sexual contact, “there was no reason for the Defendants to publicly identify the individuals in that video, including the Plaintiff.”
“Plaintiff’s reputation has been adversely affected through the defamatory statements,” the suit says.
The plaintiff seeks an injunction requiring that all records in the possession of the defendant relating to this incident be destroyed and that the defendants be prohibited from disclosing this information at any point in the future.
Hemdal also seeks unspecified compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, prejudgment interest and other court relief.
Winter, Hemdal’s attorney, told the Philadelphia Inquirer this past weekend that his client was one of the school’s “best and brightest,” a great student who served on the student council and participated in multiple sports.
The Inquirer story further stated that the unidentified student who recorded the sexual encounter on a cellphone is facing child pornography charges in Berks County Juvenile Court.
The federal case number is 5:12-cv-05925-CMR.