Teacher claims his harassment by students violates Title VII and the Civil Rights Act
Peries v NYC Board of Education, USDC, EDNY, 97 CV 7109(APR), 2001 WL 1328921
Vincent Peries was born in Sri Lanka in 1933. After he came to the United States in 1968, he received a Ph.D. in Adapted Physical Education and Child Development, as well as an MBA in international finance and a M.Sc. in Teaching English as a Second Language. After teaching at several colleges, he taught at several New York City public schools, including at Francis Lewis High School. At Francis Lewis Dr. Peries taught special education courses, working in both a resource room setting, where students receive individual assistance, and in self-contained classes.
Dr. Peries' Title VII and 42 USC 1981 complaints alleged that since the early 1990s, he has been subjected to a “steady barrage of insults and demeaning conduct from students based on [his] national origin and race.”
Federal District Court Judge Ross said that Peries' claim in this case is unusual in that the alleged harassment was not by co-workers, but by Peries' students and neither party identified any litigation involving this type of harassment. Judge Ross said the “most relevant cases in the Title VII context are those in which an employee has been harassed by the customers of his employer.”
In one case involving employees harassed by their employer's customers, Quinn v Green Tree Credit Corp., 159 F.3d 759, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, held that in such situations “such a duty can be no greater than that owed with respect to co-worker harassment.” In Quinn, the court referred to 29 CFR 1604.11(e), which provides:
An employer may also be responsible for the acts of non-employees, with respect to sexual harassment of employees in the workplace, where the employer . . . knows or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. In reviewing these cases, the [EEOC] will consider the extent of the employer's control and any other legal responsibility, which the employer may have with respect to the conduct of such non-employees.
Although there may be some circumstances in which an employer truly has little or no authority to control the actions of customers, rendering the employer's duty less than that for co-worker harassment, the relationship between school officials and students is not such a situation. In Davis v Monroe County Board of Education, 526 US 629, the Supreme Court held that a school board may be liable for the failure to stop students from sexually harassing other students if school officials are deliberately indifferent to the harassment.
As to Dr. Peries, the court said that he can prevail only if he can show first that a hostile environment existed and second that the school board either provided no reasonable avenue of complaint or knew of the harassment and failed to take appropriate remedial action.
Dr. Peries has shown the existence of a hostile work environment. The second issue: whether school officials took appropriate remedial action is a question of fact, not law.
The jury's analysis of this question can include such issues as what disciplinary options are available short of student suspension and what constitutes a proper division of student disciplinary responsibility between administrators and teachers.
Although Peries has failed to state a prima facie case with respect to his allegations that any school officials harassed him, his claim that school officials knew, or should have known, about the harassment by students and failed to take appropriate remedial action may go to a jury.
Accordingly Judge Ross ruled that Dr. Peries' Title VII hostile work environment claim against the Board of Education survived, but his civil rights claims against the individual defendants must be dismissed.