Judge denies school’s request to overturn jury’s verdict
A federal judge on Tuesday denied the Tonganoxie school district's motion to reject a jury's verdict that awarded $250,000 to a former student.
On Aug. 11, a U.S. District Court jury awarded the $250,000 to Dylan Theno, who had filed a lawsuit claiming he was harassed for years and, therefore, denied an education.
The lawsuit was filed in May 2004, and in it, the former student alleged he was called names such as "fag," "faggot," "queer," "flamer" and "masturbator" from his seventh-grade year until he quit school as a junior. The suit also alleged the harassment prevented the student access to an education.
In his ruling, Judge John Lungstrum said, "It was sufficient for the jury to find that the school district's response was clearly unreasonable in light of all the known circumstances, and consequently that the school district was deliberately indifferent. The record reflects that a sufficiently significant number of school administrators essentially turned a blind eye to the harassment by ignoring, tolerating, or trivializing the harassment. Plaintiff and his parents were at times treated dismissively by some of the school administrators."
Lungstrum also stated that the students who harassed Theno were not "meaningfully disciplined."
"The result was a school culture in which many students appeared to have felt at ease making inappropriate comments to plaintiff openly in front of teachers and other students, even during classes," Lungstrum said. "As such, the court cannot find that the school district took prompt remedial action. The jury's finding of deliberate indifference is supported by the evidence."
Tuesday evening, Dylan Theno's father, Allen Theno, called Lungstrum's ruling a "vindication."
"The harassment went on and on. And the most disturbing part within the whole lawsuit was the lack of response by the school," Theno said. "In a lot of the cases they did nothing, the judge is pretty clear about that."
Theno's attorney, Arthur Benson, said the school district has until Nov. 17 to file notice if it intends to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver.
In addition, the school district has until Monday to respond to Benson's fee petition. Benson asked the district to pay Theno's legal fees, which total slightly more than the jury's verdict. Benson is seeking $232,000 for the more than 1,000 hours he and his associates spent representing Theno, as well as nearly $21,400 in expenses.