Monday, March 1, 2021

School employees liable for their actions at work

Here's a case from January 2021 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth circuit.  Here's a map of the circuits.
This case is called Meyers v Cincinnati Board of Education and is an appeal of a case from the Southern District of Ohio.

This is a really sad case.  Beginning in the first grade, Gabriel Taye was bullied and assaulted by other students at his elementary school.  The school employees either did not inform the boy's parents about the incidents, or they referred to them as "accidents".  Although Gabriel sometimes reported the incidents to school employees, the bullies were rarely reprimanded.  There is at least one instance where Gabriel fought back in self-defense, and HE was reprimanded by the school.  The school denied the parents' multiple requests to view surveillance footage.

When he was in third grade, and after a particularly violent assault on Gabriel in the bathroom, he was knocked unconscious for seven minutes.  The school sent him home but didn't inform his parents exactly what happened, and Gabriel only remembered that he fell and his stomach hurt.  That night he threw up and his parents took him to the hospital.  Because no one knew that he might have a head injury, he was sent home with "stomach flu" and stayed home the next day.  Upon returning to school the following day, he was again bullied.  He reported the bullying but again nothing was done.  After school that day, he found a necktie and used it to hang himself from the top of his bunk bed.

Gabriel Taye's parents sued the school district and several individual employees for reckless, wanton disregard for the safety of the students, wrongful death, failure to report child abuse, and tampering with evidence [destroying surveillance footage].

During the course of the lawsuit, it was discovered that the school kept a "behavior log" which did include some of these incidents, as well as other incidents directed at other students.  However, the school wanted to "keep its record clean" and kept the behavior log private and never reported anything, even though they were required to do so.

The employee defendants [not the school district] claimed governmental immunity and asked the court to dismiss the case against them [and continue against just the school district]. Basically, they said they were "doing their jobs" and were acting "reasonably", so they should not be liable as individuals, only as employees.  So their employer, the school district, might be responsible but they were not.

Under Ohio law, a public school employee is entitled to immunity for acts within the scope of employment.  They are NOT entitled to immunity for acts outside the scope of their employment, or wanton and reckless behavior, or malicious behavior.

The Court determined that the actions of the individual employees, as alleged in the lawsuit by Gabriel Taye's parents, were sufficient that a reasonable jury could believe them and find the employees were wanton and reckless, malicious, and/or acting outside the scope of their employment.  This didn't resolve the entire lawsuit, but it did mean that the individual school employees could be found liable for the boy's suicide, in addition to the school district.  The case will continue to trial.

Do you agree with the court's conclusion?  Why or why not?


  1. That's so sad, and awful, and just plain horrible. One of my Barbarians was bullied terribly (physically and verbally) for years and the school did nothing, even making the bully school captain. It's had such a dramatic shift on his personality and confidence I'm not sure we're ever going to get back the always happy, bubbly confident boy. I don't need to say what I think, I reckon you know.

    1. Gggrrrrrrrr. Makes me so angry to think that kids have to endure something like that. I hope your Barbarian is in a better situation now.