Court Denies District’s Request for Dismissal in Disability Discrimination Case

S.C. and B.C., individually and on behalf of their minor daughter, C.C., filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against Round Rock ISD, an assistant principal, and journalism teacher.  The suit alleged that C.C. was diagnosed with and treated for Anorexia Nervosa during middle school and received Section 504 accommodations.  Those accommodations included, among other things, notifying the parents in advance when there will be food in class so adjustments can be made.  C.C. was to be excused from any assignment or activity that involved diet, nutrition, fitness, or body image.  Additionally, staff were prohibited from discussing dieting, body image, or related topics around C.C. and were to discourage these topics and occurrences in the classroom.

According to the suit, C.C.’s accommodations were not implemented when she transitioned to high school.  For example, the suit claimed that C.C.’s journalism teacher, who was aware of the above accommodations, recruited her into the journalism department to exploit her health condition. Specifically, the suit alleged that the teacher intended to make C.C. the subject of a feature article in the high school yearbook concerning mental illness. She assigned upper class students to interview and photograph C.C. with a view to developing the article.

As a 16-year-old child, C.C. was legally incapable of giving consent to the interviews and photographs. Neither of her parents were contacted by any school official or faculty member to gain consent. Submitting to the peer and faculty pressure, C.C. participated in the interviews and allowed photographs to be taken. The parents claimed that because of the yearbook story, photographs, interviews, and ensuing gossip, C.C. stopped eating and “went into a psychic and physical tailspin.”  C.C. was placed in an in-treatment facility for a period of time.  According to the suit, when she returned to the school, she was subjected to a hostile environment.

The parents filed suit and alleged that Round Rock ISD intentionally discriminated against C.C. because of her disability, Anorexia Nervosa, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The school district defendants requested pretrial judgment arguing that the evidence was insufficient to establish intentional discrimination. The trial court disagreed, holding that there was a fact issue as to whether the journalism teacher intentionally discriminated against C.C. because of her disability.

According to the court, the evidence showed that the teacher knew of C.C.’s diagnosis, asked if she wanted to be photographed and interviewed, and did not seek parent consent.  The Court determined that this evidence created a fact issue as to whether the teacher intentionally discriminated against C.C. because of her disability by knowingly denying C.C. accommodations. The Court did not dismiss the suit against the District.  Instead, the journalism teacher’s actions alone were enough to establish a fact issue against the School District. Because there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether RRISD intentionally discriminated against C.C., in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, RRISD’s Motion for Summary Judgment was denied and the suit was allowed to proceed. S.C. v. Round Rock Indep. Sch. Dist., No. A-19-CV-1177-SH, 2021 WL 196684, at *4 (W.D. Tex. Jan. 19, 2021).

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