Education

3 lawsuits filed against Lexington Catholic alleging sex discrimination, race harassment

Lexington Catholic High School.
Lexington Catholic High School. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Three lawsuits filed Tuesday against Lexington Catholic High School allege sex harassment and discrimination, and racial harassment.

The lawsuits describe in graphic terms students being bullied or called names until they were suicidal or physically ill. The lawsuits, filed in Fayette Circuit Court, also names the school’s owner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington.

Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney Amos Jones said that a white girl alleges sex harassment and discrimination, and two black male students allege race harassment.

In addition to violations of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act of 1966, the cases allege fraud, gross negligence and breach of contract suffered continually at the hands of named administrators, coaches, teachers and students — violations that forced the former Lexington Catholic students to withdraw from the school under extreme duress, Jones said in a news release.

Jones, who is working with Lexington attorney Chris Miller, said he has represented five alleged victims since current and former Lexington Catholic students began coming forward in April alleging racist incidents — including the threat by a white upperclassman to lynch a black freshman.

“We will not stand by while the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington promotes discrimination against white girls and black boys,” Jones said in the news release.

In April, the Herald-Leader reported that Jones is representing a student who said he was harassed by teammates on the Lexington Catholic football team. Investigators said the harassment was racially motivated, and a 17-year-old boy was charged April 7 with harassing communications and third-degree terroristic threatening. In that case, described in a lawsuit, a mother found threatening messages to her son on his computer.

Tim Culver, vice president for advancement at the school, said Tuesday that “Lexington Catholic is aware of the recently filed legal complaints. The school has a longstanding policy not to comment in any way on legal matters and we will continue to abide by that policy.”

But school officials said in April that the trustees do not “in any manner, shape or form condone harassment — racial, sexual or other bullying tactics that could be considered threatening. Our position will continue to be to respond quickly and judiciously if events such as the one recently reported ever occur.”

In April, the Catholic high school board authorized the formation of a School Life and Culture Committee to oversee the diversity, ethics and cultural competency initiatives at the school.

One lawsuit was filed against Lexington Catholic and principal Sally Stevens by parents of a student identified as Mary Doe.

In 2013-14, Mary said she was bullied and harassed by students who told “vicious and slanderous” lies that she frequently engaged in sex acts.

One day in 2014 on campus, a car with three male soccer players followed Mary and her sister, yelled profanities at her and sexually harassed her, requesting that she provide sex acts, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges that Stevens and other Lexington Catholic officials did not adequately discipline the students involved, even though one of the boys admitted the wrongdoing.

The harassment of Mary by other students intensified, the lawsuit said, with one student telling her that she “should just kill herself already.”

Because the school did not take appropriate action and follow federal law, the lawsuit said, the girl’s parents withdrew her from Lexington Catholic in April 2015.

“Mary remains suicidal and struggles to this day with emotional problems because of the unchecked and pervasive harassment and bullying” that the school allowed to continue with the full knowledge of the diocese, the lawsuit said.

In a second lawsuit, a parent referred to as Jane Doe filed the lawsuit against the school and the diocese on behalf of her son, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe.

John Doe, a black football player, was constantly racially bullied at football camp before the season started by white players, being told things like “all black people smell like p----,’ the lawsuit said.

Despite assurances that the coach would talk to the bullies, the lawsuit said, that didn’t happen.

When a female student told John Doe he should “pick cotton” and made fun of his skin color, John Doe’s mother was called to school by a teacher who told her that John Doe was mean to the girl, the lawsuit said. John Doe’s mother found messages on his computer, sent by a football player who has since been criminally charged, stating that John Doe better get fundraising money by selling drugs or picking cotton, the lawsuit said..

John Doe received instant messages from the teammate saying, “I’m going to lynch you,” “I’m going to hang you because you’re black, “u don’t know your real dad,” “I’ll hire you to pick my cotton $1 per week” and “turn in your welfare check, food stamps accepted,” the lawsuit said.

When the mother decided to remove her son from the school, she was told that she owed the school thousands of dollars and that the school wouldn’t release his transcript until the money was paid in full, the lawsuit said.

In a third lawsuit, filed by an unidentified parent on behalf of her black son, a freshman, he also was racially bullied, the lawsuit said. Examples included being told to “go back to the fields where all of you belong” and being called a n---er. The student had a stress-related illness and ended up withdrawing from classes and taking online courses, the lawsuit said.

“These lawsuits are unfortunately necessary to force Lexington Catholic to fulfill its obligation to these former students,” Jones said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “These lawsuits are about violations of civil rights for girls” and for blacks, “and about the school’s duties of care under contract law and other laws” in Kentucky, he said.

“The charges are centered on the school’s violation of its own policies and commitments with regard to discrimination and harassment and punishment as well as financial responsibilities. We argue that agreements were breached,” Jones said. “Those breaches caused harm.”

“Lexington Catholic committed itself to an environment of nurture and fairness. We allege in these suits that those were breached. We allege that there was fraud and misrepresentation, not just acts committed against these children, but by the school’s official collusion in carrying out the acts and covering them up.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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