Posts tagged with "#NewYork"

U.S. Department of Education Takes a Strong Stance Against Bullying

The DOE Letter

On October 26, 2010, the United States Department of Education (“DOE”) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to Boards of Education throughout the United States (the “Letter”). The Letter addressed an ever-present and growing harmful trend in many schools: Bullying.

As outlined by the DOE, “[b]ullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential.” This Letter comes in the wake of recent tragic reports of several young people taking their own lives as a result of repeated bullying and taunting for being (or being perceived as being) gay.

With this Letter, the DOE highlighted that bullying in schools or at school sponsored functions is never to be tolerated, and that a school district’s delay in taking immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred may result in the school district’s violation of the victim’s civil rights.  The effects of student-on-student harassment and bullying are severe, and include lower academic achievement; increased anxiety; low self-esteem; depression; deterioration of health; feelings of alienation; absenteeism; self-harm; and suicidal ideation.

Anti-Discrimination Statutes 

Within the DOE, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) enforces several different federal anti-discrimination statutes, including but not limited to, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) ; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“Title II”).

While these statutes protect students from harassment by school employees, it also protects students from harassment by other students. Such conduct, when sufficiently serious, can create a hostile environment leading to negative consequences for the victims. Consequently, when peer bullying or harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability, a school district’s failure to act appropriately in preventing this type of conduct, could result  in the school district’s violation of the victim’s civil rights and lead to legal liability.[1]

The statutes enforced by OCR do not explicitly protect against religious discrimination.[2] However, many religious groups face discrimination based on “actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics,” which is protected under Title VI, and enforced by OCR. The same principle can be applied to those discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.  While the statutes do not protect against discrimination based on sexual preference, they do protect against gender-based harassment, which includes sex and sex-stereotyping (i.e., failing to conform to the stereotypical notions of being a man). [3]

What is Harassment?

But what is harassment? And when does a school district’s action (or inaction) rise to the level of violating a student’s civil rights.  In the Letter, OCR defined harassment as including verbal acts and name calling; graphic and written statements  (which may include cell phones or internet use); or other conduct that may be psychically threatening, harmful, or humiliating.  As outlined by the Letter, school districts are responsible for incidents of harassment, when the school district knew or should have known that the harassment was occurring.

Responsibility of School Districts to End Harassment

The Letter also outlines the responsibility of school districts, which includes: 1) immediate action to investigate the incident; 2) if discriminatory harassment has occurred, the school must take steps calculated to end the harassment; 3) eliminate the hostile environment; and 4) prevent the harassment from recurring.

Further, the Letter discusses the appropriate steps that should be used to end harassment, including: 1) separating the accused harasser and the victim; 2) providing counseling for the victim and/or the harasser; 3) taking disciplinary action against the harasser; 4) ensuring students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems; 5) conducting follow-up inquiries; and 6) offering training to school personnel, students, and/or the community concerning discrimination and harassment.

In addition, the Letter stresses the importance of not penalizing the victim of the harassment. For example, if separation is required between the harasser and the victim, the school should not require the victim to change his/her class schedule.  Doing so would validate the harasser’s actions and/or create fear of reporting harassing behavior.  The Letter also emphasizes the significance of looking past the “label” (i.e., teasing or hazing) and rather encourages school districts and administrators to look at the nature of the conduct itself, as that will define the responsibilities of school districts.

Anti-Bullying Legislation

Over the past several years, many states have adopted anti-bullying laws, including Connecticut and New York. These laws set forth mandatory procedures a school is required to take upon notice of such incidents. However, a school’s responsibility does not begin and end with those procedures.  The school districts must ensure that its policies and procedures protect the victim’s civil rights.

President Obama recently established an Inter-agency Task Force on Bullying. In conjunction with that, the Obama administration hosted its first ever National Bullying Summit and launched the Stop Bullying Now campaign, the It Gets Better Project, and a national database of effective anti-bullying programs.   For more information on bullying, please review the following:

The Trevor Project

It Gets Better Project

If you are someone who has been a victim of bullying or harassment or know of someone who is being bullied or harassed, please speak up.  At Maya Murphy, P.C., we have decades of experience dealing with Education Law, harassment or bullying, Special Education Law, and discrimination– often in situations where they run concurrently.  We handle all types of issues, in a broad geographic area, which includes Westport, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, and the entire Fairfield County area.

[1] While this article addresses civil liability, it should be noted that bullying can have criminal implications for both the bully and his or her guardians.

[2] Other statutes, not enforced by OCR, protect against discrimination on the basis of religion.

[3] The DOE letter addresses laws enforced by OCR only. It does not address a school district’s legal obligation under other federal, state or local laws, which may impose additional obligations on schools.

Two Housekeepers at Hotel Accuse Supervisors

Two Housekeepers at Hotel Accuse Supervisors and Colleagues of Sexual Harassment.

For months, in the hallways and suites of a hotel in midtown Manhattan, two housekeepers said they were groped and sexually harassed by their superiors. When they complained to the general manager regarding this harassment, nothing was done, they said, and after they took their story to a top hotel executive, they were dismissed.

The housekeepers, Kathy Saigado, 29, and Marina Abdullajeva, 28, who were paid $5 for each room they cleaned, said that two supervisors and two colleagues at the Club Quarters Hotel, at 40 West 45th Street, routinely grabbed their breasts and propositioned them. They also said the executive housekeeper demanded that they bow their heads when speaking to him.

“I felt like my rights as a human being were raped,” said Ms. Salgado, who emigrated from Ecuador. “When I complained to the general manager of the hotel, he just started laughing.”

The Club Quarters hotel caters almost entirely to business executives. Guests must be employees of member corporations. Room rates range from $95 to $285 a night.

Response to the Claims

After a five-month investigation, the New York State Division of Human Rights has found sufficient evidence to support the women’s claims of sexual harassment. A state investigator also found evidence that the women were dismissed in retaliation for complaining about the behavior of Eliot Manning, a supervisor; Hasan Kaseb, the head of housekeeping; Talat Pervez, a mechanic, and Maria Lahlu, another housekeeper. All four have denied the allegations.

Jon D. Horowitz, a lawyer for Midtown South Associates, one of several companies that have an interest in the hotel, said yesterday that the women were not harassed and that they only filed complaints after being dismissed in March 1994.

“There is no basis for the claims,” he said. “Midtown South Associates has a written sexual harassment policy, which it strictly enforces.”

Next Steps for the Complainants

The women were dismissed “for cause,” including “poor work quality and inability to work with others,” hotel executives told investigators.

Ms. Abdullejeva, who was twice named “Housekeeper of the Month” during 17 months at the hotel, responded, “Those are lies.”

“I’m scared to start all over again,” said Ms. Abdullajeva, who emigrated from Latvia. “I don’t want to work anymore at a hotel.”

The Office of Sexual Harassment Issues, a unit of the State Human Rights Division, has handled 859 case so far this year. In 40 percent of the cases, investigators have sided with the complainants.

“I’ve never worked on a sexual harassment case where the facts were as egregious as these,” said Joseph Maya, a lawyer who represents the former housekeepers and was a lawyer at the city’s Commission on Human Rights for five years.

Mr. Maya said each woman was seeking $2 million in damages.

Additional Accusations

In a separate action in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Mr. Maya filed a lawsuit on behalf of another former housekeeper, Monica Quintana, against the hotel and the four employees, also charging sexual harassment.

Ms. Salgado said the sexual harassment began almost immediately after she was hired by the hotel in January 1994. “They would grab me in the hallway,” she said. “And they made comments.”

She said Mr. Pervez made sexually-laced comments and jokes to her. Several times, she said, while she sat in the employee cafeteria, he intentionally brushed his crotch against the back of her neck as he passed.

She said she complained to the executive housekeeper, Mr. Kaseb. In response, she said, he locked his office door, grabbed her from behind and told her, he was “tired of these complaints.”

Ms. Salgado and Ms. Abdullajeva both said they complained to the hotel manager, Frank Nicholas. But, Ms. Salgado said, Mr. Nicholas excused Mr. Kaseb’s behavior by saying, “This is the way they treat women in Iran.”

Shortly before they were dismissed, Ms. Salgado and Ms. Abdullajeva said they complained to Al Van Ness, a top hotel executive. “He denies having heard any complaint,” said Mr. Horowitz, the hotel lawyer.

The Aftermath

In finding probable cause, a state investigator said two former employees corroborated the two women’s’ allegations. The investigator also noted that the hotel’s 48-page employee handbook, which includes a sexual harassment policy, is distributed to management but is not given to other employees.

Ms. Salgado and Ms. Abdullajeva said they have searched for housekeeper jobs since they were dismissed but have had no luck. “The problem is references,” Ms. Salgado said. “I have to tell them I worked in a hotel and I was sexually harassed. They feel sorry for me, but who wants to hire somebody who has been mentally destroyed?”

The New York Times Metro Section
By Don Van Natta Jr.