A Bullied Teen in Middle School Just Got Awarded $1 Million in Damages
"When other kids speak up in the future, schools will listen."
A California jury has awarded $1 million in damages to a teenager after determining that a local school district failed to protect her from bullies as a middle schooler. "When other kids speak up in the future, schools will listen," the teen's attorney said. "I think that's what the verdict says. These cases with emotional harm to a child are lifelong and lasting and they are serious." Read on to find out what led to the lawsuit, and how the jury justified its seven-figure award to the 18-year-old.
According to a lawsuit filed against the El Segundo Unified School District in April 2019, three classmates of Eleri Irons bullied her at El Segundo Middle School between November 2017 and June 2018.
The bullying "included verbal harassment, spreading nasty rumors and text messaging mean comments directly" to her, the lawsuit claimed. The abusive behavior allegedly occurred on school property and on field trips. At one point, the three bullies started a "Let's Kill Eleri Irons" petition, the suit said.
"When this petition was discovered by Teachers, they failed to notify the parents of Claimant in any manner," the lawsuit claimed "The gross negligence by School, Teachers, Principal, and District resulted in significant physical and psychological trauma to Claimant."
A jury agreed, awarding Irons, 18, $700,000 for past pain and suffering and $300,000 for any future emotional trauma. NBC News reported that the jury found the school district negligent, particularly in training and supervising employees, which were "substantial factors" in causing harm to Irons.
Irons' attorney, Christa Ramey, told NBC News the bullying had caused Irons to commit self-harm and that she had been diagnosed with PTSD.
"What the jury told us … is that they believed her," said Ramey. "That was ultimately what she needed is to have someone actually listen to her and believe her because that didn't happen to her in the eighth grade."
The attorney added: "This is not just about her. When other kids speak up in the future, schools will listen. I think that's what the verdict says. These cases with emotional harm to a child are lifelong and lasting and they are serious. And schools need to give more than just lip service to anti-bullying policies, they actually need to implement them."
"As we move forward, we are committed to self-improvement and doing everything we can to prevent bullying in our schools," the school district said in a statement after the verdict. "We have taken a number of actions to make this happen. These include adding two Student Safety Assistant positions at Center Street and Richmond Street elementary schools, the adoption of a tailored security assessment for all schools, and the implementation of a comprehensive school district safety plan."
The district said it would implement recommendations from a third-party auditor of its safety policies. Those include "behavioral threat assessment protocol training" for staff, a website where students can report bullying anonymously, and "physical safety enhancements at our middle and high schools." "As an extra layer of protection, our Gaggle alert system flags any potential bullying occurring online," the district added.
This isn't the first school-bullying suit that has ended with a seven-figure award. In 2017, Anthony Motta, Jr., then 20, was awarded $1 million after lawyers contended Sullivan County school officials didn't protect him from constant bullying (including over his speech impediment), then suspended him after he finally decided to fight back. "The whole thing was very sad," the jury foreperson told NBC New York. The district "just dropped the ball," she added.