On January 28, 2000, a former high school student who experienced persistent physical and verbal harassment at the hands of peers, sued the Washoe County School District in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel and Lambda Legal, requested injunctive relief, attorneys' fees and costs, and compensatory and punitive damages for the District's content and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment, and for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause based on sexual orientation and sex discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; sex-based discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, under 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681, et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and violations of Nevada tort law.
Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the District's failure to respond to persistent complaints of student harassment and abuse while he attended school in the District from 1994 until 1997 constituted intentional discrimination based on his sex and sexual orientation. These actions and omissions resulted in the plaintiff's physical and emotional harms and prevented him from obtaining a high school diploma, as the persistent abuse caused him to drop out of high school. The plaintiff also claimed that school officials required him to stay quiet about his sexual orientation, resulting in First Amendment violations.
On February 28, 2001, the Court (Magistrate Judge Robert A. McQuaid, Jr.) granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's 1st, 2nd, 3nd, 4th, 7th, and 8th claims for relief. Henkle v. Gregory, 150 F. Supp. 2d 1067, 1078 (D. Nev. 2001). The Court granted the defendant's motion as to the plaintiff's equal protection claims and the Title IX claims brought under Section 1983, as there was a separate enforcement mechanism under Title IX that covered the substance of both claims under Section 1681. See id. at 1072-74. The Court also granted the defendant's motion as to the plaintiff's First Amendment punitive damages claim in so far as it related to one of the defendants acting in an official capacity. See id. at 1077-78. However, the Court denied the motion as to the plaintiff's First Amendment claim generally and in relation to his request for punitive damages against the defendants acting in their individual capacities, and his Title IX (§ 1681) claims against the School District. See id. at 1074-78.
On May 22, 2001, the Court granted the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, reinstating his equal protection claim based on sexual orientation discrimination in light of a recent Ninth Circuit decision. The Court denied the plaintiff's motion for an interlocutory appeal and the defendant's qualified immunity defense.
The Court entered a stipulation of dismissal of one of the individually named defendants without prejudice on September 9, 2002, due to a settlement agreement reached between the parties. On September 13, the Court entered a stipulation of dismissal as to the remaining defendants with prejudice due to a separate settlement agreement. According to Lambda Legal
, the settlement resulted in the award of $451,000 in damages to the plaintiff and required the School District to implement new employee training and discrimination policies, and to explicitly recognize freedom of expression in relation to sexual orientation in schools.
On January 17, 2013, the Court dismissed the claims against the remaining defendant, as she completed training required as part of the settlement agreement, closing the case.Stella Cernak - 04/20/2014