Archive for Wednesday, December 15, 2004

School lawsuit heads to mediation

December 15, 2004

An attempt will be made next Wednesday to negotiate a settlement to a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the Tonganoxie school district.

James Margolin, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney, will act as a mediator in the federal lawsuit, which was filed by the father of a former student, on the youth's behalf. Mediation is required in federal lawsuits, and Margolin's role as mediator was approved by both parties in the suit.

If mediation fails -- and there is no requirement that the recommendations of a mediator be adopted by either party -- a trial is scheduled for Aug. 2, 2005, in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.

Meanwhile, depositions in the case will continue next Tuesday, according to Arthur Benson, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, which was filed seven months ago, alleges that the school district took no action to prevent sexual harassment of the former student and that the district failed to punish students who participated in the sexual harassment.

The suit also alleges the harassment prevented the student access to an education.

Defendants in the suit include school board members Rick Lamb, Darlyn Hansen, Bob DeHoff, Dick Dean, Leana Leslie, Ron Moore and Kay Smith; district superintendent Richard Erickson; junior high principal Steve Woolf; former high school principal Mike Bogart; and high school vice principal Brent Smith.

The lawsuit alleges that from February 2000 to December 2003, the former student was sexually harassed because his harassers believed he was homosexual. In addition, the lawsuit said that the harassment contained references to homosexuality. Most incidents of harassment, the suit said, were either reported to school officials -- or officials were aware of the incidents.

School district officials have said, as part of the lawsuit, that one student did complain "approximately annually" that he'd been called names. And the officials said they took appropriate action to investigate and address the complaints.

This fall -- as a requirement of the court -- the plaintiffs made a settlement demand. And the school district made a settlement offer.

Benson said he could not divulge the amount of either the demand of offer.

"If they're close," he said, "then sometimes the lawyers try to finish it without the mediator."

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