Gay Man Wins $900,000 Settlement in School Harassment Case
Nov. 20, 1996
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) _ Because he is gay, Jamie Nabozny was regularly spat on and beaten up in school, subjected to a mock rape and kicked in the belly so many times he needed surgery.
On Wednesday, Nabozny, now 21, accepted a $900,000 settlement, ending the first federal trial of a school district for not protecting a gay student from harassment.
The settlement was announced one day after a jury found that three school administrators in Ashland violated Nabozny's rights by failing to protect him from years of gay-bashing. The jury had been scheduled to begin considering how much to award him in damages Wednesday.
The verdict marked the first time school officials have ever been held liable for anti-gay violence against a student, said Peg Byron, public education director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay-rights organization that represented Nabozny.
``I think this will send a very clear message to school districts,'' Nabozny said. ``It is time it's stopped.''
Nabozny said the gay-bashing started when he entered Ashland Middle School in 1988 and continued until he dropped out of Ashland High School as a junior in 1993.
He said it ranged from name-calling to being shoved, beaten, spat on and even having his head pushed in a urinal and being urinated upon.
He recounted how boys in an eighth-grade science class pushed him to the ground and pretended to rape him. He said he was kicked in the stomach so many times over the years that he required surgery.
His parents said the abuse continued even after they had many meetings with school officials.
A former classmate, Roy Grande, testified that he and others beat and taunted Nabozny because ``he didn't act like we did. He was girlish.''
Nabozny's lawyers used Grande's testimony in an effort to show that school officials weren't consistent in punishing students for harassing others. Grande was suspended for violations such as calling his girlfriend names, yet he was never punished for tormenting Nabozny.
The jury ruled against Middle School Principal Mary Podlesny and two high school administrators: Principal William Davis and Assistant Principal Thomas Blauert. Timothy Yanacheck, an attorney for the district, said the three were hurt by the verdict.
``They continue to believe that they responded appropriately to the plaintiff based on the limited information that they had available at the time,'' Yanacheck said. ``School administrators are sympathetic to kids who are harassed by other kids in school. But for the most part that's misbehavior that school administrators cannot prevent or control.''
Nabozny earned a general equivalency degree after leaving the Ashland schools, but said he hopes to still get a diploma so he can hold an unofficial graduation ceremony.
``It's something I was denied, something my parents were denied,'' he said.
Ashland, a town of 8,000 people, is in far northern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Superior, about 65 miles east of Duluth, Minn.