A parent is suing the School District of Philadelphia over an incident in
which she claims her young son was taunted, bullied and sexually harassed by older boys in the child’s school bathroom, an incident that was recorded by the aggressors.
Luana Lewis filed suit in U.S. District Court last week on behalf of her son, “J.L.,” a 7-year-old who says he was humiliated by a group of seventh-grade boys on Sept. 23, 2013, while he was trying to go to the bathroom at his school.
Unbeknownst to his teacher, the child left his classroom that day to use the restroom, at which time the only stall he located was one without a door, according to the complaint.
The child was attempting to “privately” defecate in the door-less stall, the suit says, when the three older students demanded that he show them his bowel movements and private parts, an incident that was allegedly filmed on a cellphone camera.
Cellphones were not allowed in the school at the time as per district policy.
The district’s failure to keep younger students separate from older students and its failure to enforce the no cell phone policy caused J.L. to endure “verbal and psychological bullying and sexual harassment,” the complaint states.
The suit also faults the district for failing to replace the missing door on the bathroom stall, which would have allowed students like the plaintiff’s son to relieve themselves in private and enjoy “a basic human dignity.”
“The bullying and sexual harassment was so severe and embarrassing as to deprive Plaintiff, J.L., of the benefit of services and educational opportunities offered by the District,” the complaint reads. “Defendants’ failure to prevent bullying and sexual harassment effectively deprived Plaintiff, J.L., of access to the District’s resources and opportunities in the school.”
Lewis, the plaintiff, says she has incurred losses such as the loss of the enjoyment of her son’s consortium.
She also says she has suffered from “extreme and ongoing mental distress and anxiety.”
The additional defendants in the suit are the Benjamin B. Comegys School, which is where the alleged incident occurred; its principal, Lisa Wilmer; District Superintendent William R. Hite; Mr. Dotter, the child’s teacher, whose first name is not given; and John Does 1-5.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the federal Civil Rights Act.
The complaint also contains counts of breach of fiduciary duty and negligence.
The plaintiff seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and costs.
Lewis is being represented by attorney Joseph D. Cronin.
The federal case number is 2:14-cv-01707-NS.