Pennsylvania Record

Friday, January 17, 2020

Oil City student granted time to amend civil rights lawsuit against school district and three employees

Federal Court

By Karen Kidd | Jan 8, 2020

Schools 1280

ERIE – An Oil City elementary school student has been given time to amend his civil rights action against an area school district over alleged harassment he encountered from fellow students.

In her 12-page memorandum opinion issued Dec. 9, U.S. District Court for Pennsylvania's Western District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter granted part of a motion for dismissal. Baxter denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint against three individual defendants but granted the motion as it relates to the school district.

Baxter also granted leave for the plaintiff in the case, a minor child, to amend his claim against defendants Oil City Area School District and three school district employees.

"Because the court cannot say that further amendment of his claim against the school district would be inequitable or futile, plaintiff will be given leave to amend that claim," Baxter said in her memorandum.

The memorandum did not state a deadline for the plaintiff to amend his claim. The amended claim, if filed, would be the third in the case.

Plaintiff G.Z., a 9-year-old of Hispanic descent who lives in Oil City with his mother, filed through his mother a lawsuit against Oil City Area School District and three employees.

G.Z. claims to have been racially harassed by his fellow students at Smedley Elementary School and alleges that the school district and defendant employees' actions to his complaints about the harassment violated his 14th Amendment equal protection rights.

"The school district's racial demographic is 96 percent white, with Hispanics comprising only 1 percent of the population," the background portion of Baxter's memorandum said.

G.Z. alleges five white children harassed him during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years. The alleged harassment included calling him "stinky African" and physical assaults, including pushing him down a flight of stairs and puncturing his skin with a woodchip, according to the memorandum.

One of the defendant school district employees, teacher Kelly Zerbe, "allegedly knew about these incidents but took no action," the memorandum said.

Other defendant school district employees are Principal Tammy Newman and teacher Jessica Rodriguez.

"G.Z. claims that none of the administrators have addressed or disciplined the students harassing him, nor have any reports been written or filed, despite the fact that teachers have been aware or - or even witnessed - the verbal and physical assaults," the memorandum said. "According to G.Z., defendant Rodriguez discouraged him from reporting the harassment that other students inflicted on him, stating that it was 'tattling.' G.Z. thereafter stopped reporting instances of assaults to any teachers or administrators."

G.Z. has been getting therapy for trauma he has suffered because of the harassment, according to the memorandum.

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