MI. Federal Jury Orders School District to Pay Student $800k for Ignoring Pattern of Bullying

A landmark $800,000 jury award to a Michigan teenager who was sexually harassed for years by schoolmates.  The landmark case Patterson v. Hudson Area Schools (E.D. MI 2012, and 6th Cir. 2008) sends a message to school districts that taking ineffective action is akin to taking no action.  Ruling that the school has a duty to implement  effective consequences to stop misappropriate and illegal behavior.  Failure to take appropriate and effective action is akin to showing deliberate indifference to systemic student-on-student abuse and/or sexual harassment.

Facts of the Case:

Patterson went through high school enduring such taunts as “faggot” and “man boobs,” the defacing of his locker with a drawing of a penis inserted into a rectum, episodes where students pushed him into lockers and called him names like “queer,” “faggot,” and “pig” on a daily basis, an episode in which students urinated on his clothes, and finally a locker room assault in which a star football player rubbed his genitals in Patterson’s face. His parents sued the district for violations of Title IX, the Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

The district court dismissed the action, but the Court of Appeals reversed holding that “Where a school district has actual knowledge that its efforts to remediate are ineffective, and it continues to use those same methods to no avail, such district has failed to act reasonably in light of the known circumstances.” Patterson v. Hudson Area Schools, 551 F.3d 438 (2009).

The verdict is eight times what the district offered David and Dena Patterson before the trial. Title IX plaintiffs may also recover attorney fees — which means the final judgment could be the largest ever in a student-on-student harassment case.


The holding of this case is identical to the standard for the use of crisis intervention and restraint namely that the crisis intervention and restraint program in place at the school must meet the real safety and treatment needs of the school and “neither federal reimbursement practices nor state screening practices relieves the [school] of its responsibility to provide its [students] with necessary care and services.” For a school to continue to use ineffective intervention methods is akin to deliberate indifference and is a dereliction of the school’s duty of care. Thus it is not sufficient to have “some” crisis intervention or restraint program in place, the program and training in place must be sufficient and effective to meet the real needs of the school and students.