- Views & Opinions
A national LGBT civil rights group is urging New York’s appeals court to uphold the a lower court ruling that the New York Human Rights Law protects public school students against discrimination and harassment.
“We urge the New York Court of Appeals to hold that the New York State Human Rights Law protects all public school students against discrimination and harassment in school,” said Thomas W. Ude Jr., a senior staff Attorney with New York-based Lambda Legal. “Because the Human Rights Law is far more specific and explicitly inclusive than other antidiscrimination laws, it provides vital protections and remedies to all students, including LGBT youth.”
“All students have a right to a safe learning environment free from discrimination and harassment. The protections provided by the Human Rights Law apply to – and are needed by – all of New York’s students, not just the ones who attend private school” Ude said.
The appeal in the case that raised this issue, Ithaca City School District v. New York State Division of Human Rights, arises from a complaint by the mother of a young African-American girl who claimed that she suffered relentless racial harassment by other students while riding the public school bus to DeWitt Middle School.
Mom Amelia Kearney said she reported the incidents but was given little or no help, and claimed that the school district failed to protect her daughter from racial harassment. The same claims often are heard in cases of alleged discrimination and harassment of LGBT students.
In defense against the claim, the Ithaca City School District contested the facts, but argued that the New York State Human Rights Law provision that protect students against discrimination and harassment does not apply to public schools.
Lambda Legal, this past week, joined 11 other civil rights organizations in a friend-of-the court or amicus brief stressing the importance of the NYHRL’s protections to public school students. The others signed onto the document include Advocates for Children of New York, Inc., Anti-Defamation League, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., Disability Advocates Inc., Empire State Pride Agenda, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Ithaca Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Task Force, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project Inc., New York Civil Liberties Union, and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
In May 2009, after a public hearing, the New York State Division of Human Rights found that the Ithaca City School District discriminated against Kearney’s daughter by permitting her to be subjected to racial harassment, awarded monetary damages to the mother and daughter and ordered injunctive relief.
The school district challenged that finding and a state supreme court judge ruled in October 2009 that that the NYHRL does not apply to public schools.
The New York Division of Human Rights and Kearney appealed that ruling to the appellate court, which last June held that the NYHRL protects students attending schools in public school districts, including Ithaca City School District, and confirmed the NY State Division’s jurisdiction.
After modifying the amount of damages awarded, the court confirmed all other aspects of the division’s determination in Kearney’s favor.
In November 2011, Ithaca City School District appealed to New York’s highest court.