B.W., a minor, by next friends v. Austin Independent School District, No. 22-50158 (5th Cir.) January 9, 2023.
Plaintiff sued the school district for race based discrimination and retaliation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, asserting that the school district was indifferent to mistreatment suffered when plaintiff appeared in school wearing clothing or carrying signs identified with conservative figures. Incidents included a locker room encounter in which students from one ethnic group taunted students from another ethnic group, including plaintiff, and an individual student’s lunchroom threat to kill all who support those identified with plaintiff’s clothes.
Plaintiff withdrew from school and initiated claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 premised on the school district’s alleged violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Title Vi, and Texas law.
Plaintiff alleged that with knowledge of the harassment plaintiff was suffering, the school district acted with deliberate indifference to his rights, and failed to provide him with a safe environment.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal premised on insufficient evidence, as there were only infrequent race based remarks which were not seen as sufficient to support a Title VI claim. Title VI concerns only intentional discrimination which can be found if there is deliberate indifference to known harassment. No such evidence existed on the plaintiff’s record, the court concluded, as plaintiff was tainted for ideological, not racial views. In particular, no inference could be drawn by identifying the plaintiff’s race with that of a conservative political party, as no evidence indicated any race is precluded from participating in the conservative group.
The Fifth Circuit panel noted that plaintiff failed to develop any argument that the school district could be liable for deliberate indifference to student on student harassment, and therefore that this otherwise potentially compelling argument would not be addressed. Slip. op. P. 14, n.1.
The plaintiff’s retaliation claim was properly dismissed, as the complaint did not reveal any action taken because plaintiff opposed any unlawful practice or in response to any protected activity in reporting harassment.
The Fifth Circuit observed that nothing in the opinion indicates that the appellate court has looked away from the bullying plaintiff described, only that the law cited “does not support a claim for bullying generally.” Slip. op. At 16.