Pratt v. Indian River Central School District et al.
Case on behalf of a brother and sister challenging antigay harassment, discrimination and censorship by school officials.
Charlie Pratt endured years of harassment at school. Students attacked him relentlessly with antigay and sexist slurs, often in the presence of teachers who failed to intervene. Students also pushed him into walls, threatened him, spat on him and vandalized his locker with antigay slurs. Staff members at the high school mocked him with stereotypically effeminate gestures in front of other students.
The high school principal refused to take appropriate action, instead telling Charlie to “tone it down” to avoid harassment. The principal also refused to have teachers trained to address antigay bullying, prohibited students from forming a gay-straight alliance (GSA) and told Charlie’s parents that he could not ensure their son’s safety. Left with no other options, Charlie withdrew from school.
Charlie’s sister Ashley Petranchuk requested permission to form a GSA at the same school in fall 2008, when she was a sophomore. Administrators denied her request, claiming that a GSA would bother parents and students.
Lambda Legal sued the District and several of its employees on April 8, 2009, asserting claims for illegal and unconstitutional discrimination, harassment and censorship. Just days after the suit was filed, the district stated that it would allow Ashley to form a GSA. Lambda Legal pressed forward with claims for the previous denial, and to recover damages for both clients.
School districts violate federal and state civil rights laws when they knowingly permit or fail to intervene to address harassment based on sexual orientation or sex. They also violate students’ expressive rights when they single out GSAs for discrimination.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
By bringing suit to enforce laws that protect students against discrimination, harassment and censorship, Lambda Legal sends a powerful message to schools throughout the country that they will be held accountable for violating their students’ rights. The Pratt suit follows a series of landmark cases in which Lambda Legal has defended students’ rights, including Nabozny v. Podlesny, which established that schools can be held liable under the Constitution for allowing antigay harassment, and Colín v. Orange Unified School District, which recognized students’ federal right to form a gay-straight alliance at school.
- April 2009 Lambda Legal files a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, asserting claims for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title IX, the Equal Access Act and New York State law. Five days later, school officials indicate in a letter from their attorney that they will allow plaintiff Ashley Petranchuk to form a gay-straight alliance at Indian River High School.
- August 2010 The U.S. Department of Justice seeks Court permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Lambda Legal’s case; the Court grants permission in December 2010.
- March 2011 Court rejects the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, and rules that the case can proceed with pretrial discovery.
- August 2013 Case settled.