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Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District Lawsuit

Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District Lawsuit

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CASE 0:12-cv-01835-MJD-TNL Document 1 Filed 07/27/12 Page 1 of 15

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA A.A.A.; JANE DOE #1 and JANE DOE #2, both minors, by and through their next friend and parent, L.L.A.; Plaintiffs, v. Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District, ISD #2805; David Fleming, Erick Enger, Angela Hunstad, and Angela Heitman, in their individual capacities; Defendants. COMPLAINT AND JURY DEMAND INTRODUCTION Some Americans believed that the results of the 2008 presidential election ushered in the beginning of a new, “post-racial” society. That idealized version of America surely does not extend to Goodhue County, Minnesota, where racism is alive and thriving. This is—shockingly—another case about a Goodhue County high school whose teachers and administrators turned a blind eye to severe student-onstudent racial harassment.1

Civil File No. ________________

See Pruitt v. Anderson, et al., No. 11-2143 (DSD/JJK) (D. Minn. Filed Dec. 9, 2011) (denying Red Wing school district’s motion to dismiss where the high school permitted “Wigger (White Nigger) Wednesdays” to become a homecoming week tradition).
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This time the defendant school district and its employees allowed the plaintiffs’ White classmates to call them niggers on numerous occasions over a four-year period. The plaintiffs’ mother reached out to the high school principal to report the conduct and ask for help several times, but he literally laughed in her face. The defendants’ deliberate indifference to the White students’ conduct was not only immoral, but as the Tenth Circuit made plain, it was illegal: It does not take an educational psychologist to conclude that being referred to by one’s peers by the most noxious racial epithet in the contemporary American lexicon, being shamed and humiliated on the basis of one’s race, and having school authorities ignore or reject one’s complaints would adversely affect a Black child’s ability to obtain the same benefit from schooling as her white counterparts. Bryant v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. I-38 of Garvin Cnty, Okla., 334 F.3d 928, 932 (10th Cir. 2003). THE PARTIES 1. Plaintiff A.A.A. is an adult Black female who at all relevant times was a student at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School. 2. Plaintiffs JANE DOE #1 and JANE DOE #2 (the “DOES”) are Black, female minors who at all relevant times were students within the Zumbrota-Mazeppa school district. The DOES are sisters. A.A.A. is the DOES’ older sister. 3. L.L.A. is the mother of the individual plaintiffs. She is JANE DOE #1’s and JANE DOE #2’s legal guardian.

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4.

Defendant Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District ISD #2805 (“ISD #2805”) is a public school district and a governmental subdivision of the State of Minnesota located in Zumbrota and Mazeppa, Minnesota. ISD #2805 is entrusted with the responsibility of providing public education to children residing within its district boundaries. ISD #2805 is the recipient of federal funds. ISD #2805 is responsible for the training of ISD #2805 employees, including school administrators and faculty. ISD #2805 is sued directly and also, on all relevant claims, on the theories of respondeat superior or vicarious liability and pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 466.02 for the unlawful conduct of its employees.

5.

Defendant David Fleming served as the principal of Zumbrota-Mazeppa Middle School (the “middle school”), a school governed by ISD #2805, during the 2008-09 school year. He is responsible for the hiring, training, retention, supervision, discipline, counseling, and control of the employees of the middle school. Fleming acted under color of state law at all times relevant to this action. He is sued in his individual capacity. On information and belief, he resides in New Brighton, Minnesota. Fleming is White.

6.

Defendant Erick Enger has served as the principal of Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School (the “high school”), a school governed by ISD #2805, at all times relevant to this action. He is responsible for the hiring, training, retention, supervision, discipline, counseling, and control of the employees of the middle school. Enger acted under color of state law at 3

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all times relevant to this action. He is sued in his individual capacity. Enger is White. 7. Defendant Angela Hunstad served as a guidance counselor at the high school at all times relevant to this action. Hunstad acted under color of state law at all times relevant to this action. She is sued in her individual capacity. Hunstad is White. 8. Defendant Angela Heitman served as a teacher at the high school at all times relevant to this action. Heitman acted under color of state law at all times relevant to this action. She is sued in her individual capacity. Heitman is White. JURISDICTION & VENUE 9. This action is brought under Title VI (“Title VI”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000d; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363A.01 et seq. This Court therefore has jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), 1331, and 1367. Venue is proper in this district under 28 U.S.C. § 1391 because the acts and omissions giving rise to this action occurred in this district, and all Defendants reside in this district. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS 10. L.L.A. moved her family from Illinois to Minnesota, and eventually Zumbrota, because she suffers from a serious health condition and

4

CASE 0:12-cv-01835-MJD-TNL Document 1 Filed 07/27/12 Page 5 of 15

needs to live close to the Mayo Clinic where she receives treatment for her serious health condition. 11. L.L.A.’s daughters attended ISD #2805 schools at all times relevant to this action. 12. The events giving rise to this action occurred between the 2008-09 school year and the 2011-12 school year. 13. The student population within ISD #2805 was predominantly White at all times relevant to this action. 14. Black students made up a very small percentage of the student population within ISD #2805 at all times relevant to this action. 15. 16. 17. 18. The DOES are in the same grade. The DOES are rising seniors at the high school. A.A.A. graduated from the high school in May 2012. A.A.A. was one grade above her sisters at all times relevant to this action. 2008-09 School Year 19. 20. The DOES attended the middle school during the 2008-09 school year. In or around the second half of the 2008-09 school year, several of the DOES’ White classmates called them niggers while they were riding the school bus. 21. L.L.A. complained to Principal Fleming that several of the DOES’ White classmates called them niggers while riding the school bus. 22. Fleming told L.L.A. that he would investigate her complaint by discussing the incident with the DOES. 5

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23.

Fleming failed to discuss L.L.A.’s complaint with the DOES or otherwise investigate the incident.

24.

Fleming otherwise failed to take adequate steps to address L.L.A.’s complaint.

25.

In or around the second half of the 2008-09 school year, the DOES were involved in a verbal altercation while riding the school bus with two classmates, J.A. (who is a girl) and D.W. (who is a boy).

26. 27. 28.

J.A. and D.W. are White. During the altercation, J.A. and D.W. called the DOES niggers. L.L.A. complained to Fleming that J.A. and D.W. had called the DOES niggers.

29. 30.

Fleming failed to take action to adequately address L.L.A.’s complaint. Fleming disciplined the DOES for their involvement in the altercation by forbidding them from riding the bus for a period of time.

31.

Fleming did not forbid J.A. or D.W. from riding the bus or otherwise discipline them for their involvement in the altercation. 2009-10 School Year

32.

The DOES were freshmen at the high school during the 2009-10 school year.

33.

At some point during the second half of the 2009-10 school year, several of the DOES’ White classmates called them niggers during a verbal altercation that took place in the choir room.

6

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34.

JANE DOE #1 complained to Counselor Hunstad that several of her White classmates called her and JANE DOE #2 niggers.

35.

JANE DOE #2 complained to Hunstad that several of her classmates, including a boy, M.P., had called her and JANE DOE #1 niggers.

36.

Hunstad told JANE DOE #2 that “there is nothing we can do” to address the DOES’ complaints.

37.

Hunstad otherwise failed to take adequate action to address the DOES’ complaints. 2011-12 School Year

38. 39. 40.

A.A.A. was a senior during the 2011-12 school year. The DOES were juniors during the 2011-12 school year. In or around November 2011, a female classmate, P.P., told A.A.A. that another female student, K.K., had called A.A.A. and the DOES niggers.

41. 42. 43.

P.P. and K.K. are White. A.A.A. and the DOES reported what P.P. told them to Hunstad. On information and belief, Hunstad reported the girls’ complaint to Principal Enger.

44. 45.

Enger met with A.A.A. and the DOES. During the meeting, A.A.A. and the DOES reported what P.P. told them to Enger.

46. 47.

Enger refused to investigate the girls’ complaint. Enger told the girls that he refused to investigate because nothing was written down on paper. 7

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48.

Enger told the girls that he refused to investigate because the girls “had no facts.”

49.

Enger otherwise failed to take adequate action to address the girls’ complaint.

50.

The high school’s Martin Luther King, Jr. assembly took place in or around January 2012.

51.

During the assembly, JANE DOE #1 overheard K.K. say, “I don’t want to be here. This is for niggers.”

52.

JANE DOE #1 reported to Hunstad that she had overheard K.K. say during the assembly, “I don’t want to be here. This is for niggers.”

53. 54.

Hunstad told JANE DOE #1: “you shouldn’t let people get to you.” Hunstad otherwise failed to take adequate action to address JANE DOE #1’s complaint.

55.

In or around mid-March 2012, a group of about seven White male classmates called the DOES niggers during lunch inside the high school cafeteria.

56.

The DOES complained to Ms. Heitman, who was on lunch duty, that the boys had called them niggers.

57. 58.

Heitman failed to speak to the boys about the DOES’ complaint. Heitman told the DOES that she would speak to Principal Enger about their complaint.

59.

Enger later denied that Heitman ever reported the DOES’ complaint to him. 8

CASE 0:12-cv-01835-MJD-TNL Document 1 Filed 07/27/12 Page 9 of 15

60.

Heitman otherwise failed to take adequate steps to address the DOES’ complaint.

61.

About one week later A.A.A. and the DOES were sitting at a table in the high school cafeteria during the lunch hour.

62.

A.A.A. and the DOES heard a White male classmate, J.M., say the words, “You stupid nigger.”

63.

J.M. was sitting at a table near A.A.A. and the DOES when he said those words.

64.

J.M. was one of the seven boys who had called the DOES niggers the previous week.

65. 66.

A.A.A. reported J.M.’s conduct to Enger. At that time, Enger denied to A.A.A. that Heitman ever reported to him the DOES’ complaint about the seven boys calling them niggers.

67.

Enger told A.A.A. that she “needed to be the bigger person” in connection with her complaint about J.M.

68.

Enger otherwise failed to take adequate steps to address A.A.A.’s complaint.

69. 70.

On March 26, 2012, the DOES were walking home from school. About one block from the school, a group of their White male classmates were inside a car.

71. 72.

The car drove by the DOES. Some of the boys inside the car called the DOES niggers as they drove by. 9

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73.

All of the students inside the car were in the group of seven boys who had called the DOES niggers in the cafeteria.

74. 75.

L.L.A. reported the boys’ conduct to law enforcement on March 26, 2012. L.L.A. reported the boys’ conduct to Enger on March 27, 2012 at or around 8:20 A.M.

76. 77.

L.L.A. told Enger that the boys called her daughters niggers. L.L.A. asked Enger what he was going to do to remediate the boys’ conduct.

78. 79.

Enger laughed at L.L.A. Enger told L.L.A that he refused to do anything to remediate the boys’ conduct.

80.

Enger otherwise failed to take action to adequately address L.L.A.’s complaint.

81.

During the lunch hour and inside the cafeteria at the high school on March 27, 2012, A.A.A. and the DOES approached the boys who had been calling them niggers.

82.

The girls told the boys words to the effect that they did not appreciate being referred to as niggers.

83. 84.

An altercation ensued. Enger disciplined A.A.A. and DOE #1 for their involvement in the altercation by suspending them from school.

85.

Enger did not discipline the boys for their involvement in the altercation.

10

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86.

A.A.A. and the DOES would not have felt compelled to confront the boys had the defendants adequately addressed their concerns about the boys calling them niggers. Summary

87.

Defendants had a duty to meaningfully address the conduct set forth above because it created a racially hostile environment for A.A.A. and the DOES.

88.

Defendants failed to take adequate action to (1) address the racial harassment, (2) train employees on how to prevent students from engaging in racial harassment, (3) train employees on how to respond to complaints of student racial harassment, (4) act on complaints about student racial harassment, or (5) otherwise take adequate action to address the racial harassment set forth above.

89.

As a result of Defendants’ conduct, A.A.A. and the DOES have suffered severe and extreme emotional distress including depression, loss of sleep, stress, crying, humiliation, anxiety, and shame. COUNT I Against ISD #2805 Hostile Environment Violation of Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d

90.

Plaintiffs restate the allegations contained in the preceding paragraphs as though fully incorporated herein.

91.

Title VI and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination in a federally-funded school based on a student’s race.

11

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92.

Plaintiffs were subjected to harassment and discrimination on the basis of race.

93.

The harassment and discrimination were sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the conditions of their education and create a hostile environment. See Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999); Wolfe v. Fayetteville, Ark. Sch. Dist., 648 F.3d 860 (8th Cir. 2011); Shrum ex rel. Kelly v. Kluck, 249 F.3d 773, 782 (8th Cir. 2001); Pruitt v. Anderson, et al., No. 11-2143 (DSD/JJK) (D. Minn. Filed Dec. 9, 2011).

94.

ISD #2805 had actual knowledge of the harassment and discrimination and failed to take adequate steps to address the conduct.

95.

As a result of Defendants’ conduct, customs, policies, and practices, Plaintiffs were unjustly and discriminatorily deprived of equal

educational opportunities and benefits. COUNT II All Defendants Race Discrimination 42 U.S.C. § 1983 96. Plaintiffs restate the allegations contained in the preceding paragraphs as though fully incorporated herein. 97. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d prohibit discrimination based, in whole or in part, upon a person’s race. 98. Defendants, acting under color of state law, denied Plaintiffs equal educational opportunities and benefits by subjecting them to harassment 12

CASE 0:12-cv-01835-MJD-TNL Document 1 Filed 07/27/12 Page 13 of 15

and discrimination based on their race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI. 99. As a result of Defendants’ conduct, customs, policies, and practices, Plaintiffs were unjustly and discriminatorily deprived of equal

educational opportunities and benefits. 100. Defendants acted with intent as expressed by their deliberate indifference to violations of those constitutional and statutory rights. 101. Defendants had a duty to ensure that students’ behavior did not create a racially hostile environment. 102. Defendants breached that duty, as demonstrated by their failure to (1) address the racial harassment, (2) train employees on how to prevent students from engaging in racial harassment, (3) train employees on how to respond to complaints of student racial harassment, (4) act on complaints about student racial harassment, or (5) otherwise take adequate action to address the racial harassment set forth above. 103. Defendants’ conduct caused Plaintiffs to suffer injuries, damages, and harm. COUNT III All Defendants Violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act Minn. Stat. § 363A.13 et seq. 104. Plaintiffs restate the allegations contained in the previous paragraphs as if fully incorporated herein. 105. Defendants had a duty to provide Plaintiffs with an educational atmosphere free of racial discrimination. 13

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106. Defendants failed to take adequate steps to provide Plaintiffs with an educational atmosphere free of racial discrimination. 107. Defendants denied Plaintiffs the full utilization, equal educational opportunities, and benefits of an education by subjecting them to harassment and discrimination based on their race. 108. Defendants denied Plaintiffs the full utilization, equal educational opportunities, and benefits of an education by failing to remediate the race-based harassment and discrimination. 109. Defendants treated the Plaintiffs differently because of Plaintiffs’ race. 110. Defendants’ conduct caused the Plaintiffs to suffer injuries, damages, and harm. JURY DEMAND 111. Plaintiffs demand a jury trial. PRAYER FOR RELIEF WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court: 1. Enter judgment in Plaintiffs’ favor on their claims against Defendants in an amount to be determined at trial; 2. Award Plaintiffs damages to compensate them for the injuries they suffered as a result of Defendants’ unlawful conduct; 3. Award Plaintiffs punitive damages with respect to their § 1983 claims, the exact amount to be determined at trial;

14

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4.

Grant Plaintiffs leave to amend the Complaint to include a claim for punitive damages with respect to their MHRA claims, the exact amount to be determined at trial;

5.

Award Plaintiffs reasonable expenses incurred in this litigation, including attorney and expert fees;

6. 7.

Award Plaintiffs all other statutory relief they are entitled to; Enter a declaratory judgment that the conduct set forth above is unlawful;

8.

Enjoin Defendants from allowing racial harassment to take place on school property;

9.

Grant any other relief the Court deems just and equitable.
s/Joshua R. Williams Joshua R. Williams (#389118) jwilliams@jrwilliamslaw.com 2701 University Avenue SE, Suite 209 Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414 (612) 486-5540 (612) 605-1944 Facsimile ATTORNEY FOR PLAINTIFF

Dated: July 27, 2012

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