Bullying and the Law

Bullying and the Law

More and more jurisdictions are adopting laws that prohibit and penalize bullying.

Nobody has the legal right to harass you simply because of who you are or perceived to be. Period. In many cases, the law is on your side.

  • Almost every state has anti-bullying laws on the books.
  • The federal Constitution prohibits schools from discriminating against LGBTQ students when schools put these antibullying laws into effect.
  • Many state and local civil rights policies protect students from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, whether the targeted students are LGBTQ or not.
  • States and localities without antidiscrimination statutes may still have other laws requiring schools to prevent and penalize harassment and bullying.
  • "Negligent supervision” laws can also protect LGBTQ students from harassment by imposing liability on schools for harm students suffer while in the schools’ care.

Remember that federal law can be used to protect LGBTQ students. The federal Constitution and federal laws apply throughout the country with equal force, regardless of what additional protections may or may not exist at the state or local level. This was powerfully demonstrated in several landmark civil-rights cases brought by Lambda Legal against school officials for anti-LGBTQ discrimination. These cases were won in federal courts applying federal law.

Failing to protect students can have serious consequences for schools. Henkle v. Gregory, a case in Nevada, ended in 2002 with a settlement of $450,000, even though no state law at the time specifically addressed antigay harassment in school. Nabozny v. Podlesny, a case in Wisconsin, ended with a nearly $1 million settlement. In Nabozny, a unanimous federal appeals court specifically noted that school officials could be liable for antigay discrimination under the federal Constitution regardless of what state law provided.

You don’t need to be “out” or even LGBTQ to be protected under the law. By guaranteeing “equal protection of the laws” to all people, the Constitution also protects students who are perceived to be LGBTQ, as well as students who associate with LGBTQ people.

Contact Lambda Legal if you have further questions about LGBTQ rights under the law (212-809-8585 or use our online email form at www.lambdalegal.com/help.)