Autistic Student Subjected to Homophobic Bullying May Proceed on Title IX and Equal Protection Claims

In an early application of the 7th Circuit’s ruling in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, 853 F.3d 339 (Apr. 4, 2017), U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson of the Western District of Wisconsin (which is in the 7th Circuit) ruled that an autistic man who used to be a student in the Eau Claire Area School District can maintain his action under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause on a claim that he was subjected to harassment based on sex-stereotyping and a perception by other students that he was gay, and that school authorities who were informed of the harassment did not take any reasonable steps to address the situation. Bowe v. Eau Claire Area School District, 2017 WL 1458822, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61496 (D. Wis., April 24, 2017).

Connor Bowe also asserted claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Wrote Judge Peterson, summarizing the complaint, “Bowe’s schoolmates bullied him for many years. They called him names, such as ‘gay,’ ‘queer,’ ‘fag,’ ‘pussy,’ ‘stupid,’ and ‘butt boy.’ They shoved him and threw things at him. ‘At some point prior to’ February 2011, when Bowe was about to turn 14, [Principal Tim O’Reilly] and non-party Kevin Stevens, another District official, told some of Bowe’s classmates that Bowe suffered from autism. Bowe’s parents did not consent to the disclosure of Bowe’s disability. The bullying continued, and in fact grew more serious. Between February 2011 and February 2014, Bowe’s classmates called him ‘stupid,’ ‘fat,’ ‘weak,’ ‘fag,’ ‘pussy,’ ‘shit stain,’ and ‘bubble butt.’ They accused him of having ‘mental deficiencies’ and told him to ‘go fucking die.’ They threw things at him, threatened to hurt him, ‘physically assaulted him,’ threw eggs at his house, and left a bag of feces at his house. Bowe and his parents complained to [Principal David] Oldenberg, O’Reilly, and other District officials about the bullying multiple times a year each year from 2010 to 2015, but no District official took any action to end the bullying. Because of the bullying, Bowe’s grades fell significantly and he was prevented from fully participating in some of his classes.” We have reproduced the court’s summary in full so that readers can appreciate the severity of abuse Bowe claims to have suffered.

For the full story, access the May 2017 issue of LGBT Law Notes.