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Jury Rejects Girls Sexual Harassment Claim

November 22, 1996

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (AP) _ A federal jury Thursday rejected a girl’s claims that she was sexually harassed by her sixth-grade classmates while the school district turned a blind eye.

The panel deliberated less than six hours before siding with the South Kortright Central School District’s arguments that it was unreasonable to look at adolescent name-calling with adult expectations.

Eve Bruneau, now 15, broke down sobbing as the decision was read. Her mother, Pat Schofield, hugged her.

Miss Bruneau claimed the district created a hostile learning environment by allowing classmates to call her and other girls obscene names such as ``dog-faced bitch″ and ``whore,″ snap their bra straps and stuff paper down the front of their shirts.

The girl said she was depressed, cried frequently and begged her mother to let her stay home. She has since left the school.

Bruneau’s attorney, Brooks Burdette, said school officials did nothing to correct the boys’ behavior. He asked the jury ``to wake somebody up″ and tell the school that ``the tears of a 12-year-old are a big, big deal because if you don’t, it’s not going to stop.″

``Maybe other school systems will listen if you send them a message,″ Burdette said. ``She’s been trying to get someone to listen to her for a long time and this is her last chance.″

Bruneau and her family were seeking to become the first plaintiffs to win damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds and requires that schools take adequate steps to stop unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when it becomes ``severe, persistent or pervasive.″

The district argued that the law does not apply to sexual harassment among children.

Said school district attorney Frank Miller: ``I think it’s inappropriate to expect the same from a child as we do from adults.″

Jury foreman William Arthur said the panel was deadlocked on whether the students’ actions constituted sexual harassment and whether the school had received sufficient notice. But Arthur said they all agreed that school officials had done all they could.

``We all agreed that the school tried to address the problem as good as they could, as good as they knew how,″ said juror Paul Lynck.

South Kortright Superintendent Roger Thompson said the jury’s decision ``proves we had good policies and we continue to update them.″

Bruneau and her family left without speaking to reporters. Their lawyer said he would appeal, although he wouldn’t say on what grounds.

``Eve Bruneau is a very brave young girl she stood up for the 85 percent of all the girls in our schools in the United States who have reported that they’ve been sexually harassed in our schools,″ Burdette said.

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