The attorneys at Rapaport Law Firm strongly support the efforts of our colleague, Ted Kessler, Esq., who is the attorney for the family of bullied teen Joel Morales in their lawsuit against New York City, the Department of Education, and bullying teens who subjected young Joel to years of torment and abuse. The unrelenting and torturous abuse endured by young Joel Morales led to his suicide by hanging. The lawsuit, which was prominently reported earlier this week in the New York Post and New York Daily News has gripped the hearts of New Yorkers. We all know that the Big Apple is a tough town. However, when an adolescent is goaded and humiliated to the point of suicide, a call for action is required. Big Apple residents should be grateful to attorney Kessler for taking on Morales’ heartbreaking cause.
Kessler’s groundbreaking court complaint on behalf of Joel’s family demands accountability not only against those who bullied Joel, but also against the institutions that callously looked the other way. Kessler’s court complaint compels us to ask why Joel’s school turned a cold shoulder to Joel’s ordeal. The Complaint alleges that “Joel was the victim of daily intimidation, abuse, harassment, and torment by his classmates” for at least 2 years, and that Joel’s mother and other concerned parents repeatedly complained about the bullying problems.
The bullying that led Joel to take his own life is a reflection of a deeply disturbing epidemic of bullying that has gripped the United States. The epidemic of suicides caused by bullying has become increasingly acute as bullies (teens and adults alike) have turned to social media as a means of terrorizing their victims.
This morning, I spoke with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NTCTSN) regarding the pervasiveness of bullying, and the wide perception that bullying is an epidemic that is increasingly frequent and severe. The NTCTSN referred me to their incredibly informative bullying public awareness webpage The NTCTSN also offers information about the annual National Preparedness Month, which is held each September and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Courts throughout the United States have struggled with the legal issues that arise when a school system or other institution callously disregards cries for help of a bullied child. In 2007, in the case Jasperson v. Anoka-Hennepin Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 11, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that a defendant-school district was not liable for a student’s suicide, ostensibly because the court record lacked sufficient proof that the school had knowledge of the ongoing abuse. The Minnesota court ruled that there was “no evidence that [the child’s] suicide was foreseeable and therefore could have been prevented.” However, in its decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals left the door open for such lawsuits by holding that a school may have a duty to prevent bullying if a threat is foreseeable.
Closer to home, the State of New Jersey has been proactive with its enactment of anti-bulling legislation. New Jersey 2010 Bullying Prevention Act makes harassment, intimidation or bullying unlawful under certain circumstances. Specifically, the New Jersey law states:
“Harassment, intimidation or bullying” means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus, or off school grounds as provided for in section 16 of P.L.2010, c.122 (C.18A:37-15.3), that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students and that:
a. a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm to his person or damage to his property;
b. has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students; or
c. creates a hostile educational environment for the student by interfering with a student’s education or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm to the student.
Meanwhile, statistics with regard to bullying and suicide are alarming. According to the website, bullyingstatistics.org, suicide is the leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. Bully victims are far more likely to commit suicide than other young people.
We hope that Mr. Kessler’s court filing on behalf of Joel Morales will cause schools, municipalities, public agencies, and courts to take notice of the severity of the bullying epidemic that is plaguing America. We also hope that the Morales lawsuit will lead the public, as well as the court system, to become more aware of the trauma that is inflicted by bullying whether in the context of school, the workplace or elsewhere.
Have you suffered bullying in school or at your job? Call the New York Employment Lawyers at Rapaport Law Firm Today: ph (212) 382-1600.