A Sullivan County jury found that a school district that allegedly turned a “blind eye” to severe bullying inflicted upon one of its students should pay $1 million in damages to the student’s family.
The jury awarded $300,000 for past damages, $640,000 for future damages and $30,000 for each of the parents of Anthony Motta Jr., who endured both physical and verbal bullying from 2011 to 2013 while he was a student at the Eldred School District in upstate New York.
The verdict is subject to a judge’s approval, and the school district made an oral motion in court to challenge the award for being too excessive, said JenniElena Rubino, an attorney for the Motta family, in an interview.
Rubino said that Motta endured anti-gay slurs from fellow students, regardless of the fact that he is heterosexual. Court papers state that he also suffered physical abuse at the hands of classmates, such as being urinated upon.
The harassment caused him to run into disciplinary problems, court papers state, as well as suffer academically.
Acting Sullivan County Supreme Court Justice Michael McGuire dismissed Motta’s suit in 2015, but in July 2016, a panel of the Appellate Division, Third Department, reinstated the suit, finding that Motta adequately pleaded negligent supervision on behalf of the school district.
Rubino said she felt that the jury’s verdict, which was handed up last week, was intended to “send a message to the community.”
“You can’t turn a blind eye to the bullying that goes on,” she said.
Jean-Paul Le Du of the Rubino Law Firm also appeared for the Motta family.
In a statement to the Times Herald-Record, school district officials said they were disappointed by the verdict and that district staff is “attentive, watchful and supportive.”
“The district provides training to staff, and students participate in numerous programs designed to prevent bullying and promote civility and acceptance,” the statement reads.