Thursday, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit against the Indian River Central School District in New York. The suit was initially filed in April 2009 on behalf of Charles Pratt, a student in the Indian River Central School District.  Pratt alleges he endured a decade of sexual harassment, while school employees — ignoring multiple pleas from his parents — allowed the hostility to intensify. Students attacked Pratt with impunity, using slurs like “faggot,” “sissy” and “queer” in the presence of teachers with no repercussions.  They also engaged in physical and sexual assaults against Pratt.  The school district was aware of the countless incidents and did nothing.  Perhaps more egregiously, the complaint alleges, the teachers and administrators in the school district also mocked Pratt themselves.  Ultimately, Pratt’s parents withdrew him from the school, as they saw it as the only means to prevent continued harassment.

The Justice Department’s brief argues that Pratt faced violations on the part of the School District of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, both of which prohibit discrimination based on sex, including discrimination based on gender stereotypes. They further argue that discrimination based on sexual orientation – such as the use of slurs – does not itself defeat a Title IX claim for discrimination based on sex.

In 2009, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department reestablished its GLBT Working Group, which, among other things, focuses on identifying ways to protect the rights of LGBT individuals. This motion marks the second time that the Justice Department moved to intervene in a harassment case involving gender stereotypes since 2000.

Thanks to HRC Law Fellow Adam Thomas for this post.

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