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PA School Anorexia Bullying Case Settles for $55k

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By Laura Strachan, Esq. on August 06, 2010 7:07 AM

In what is being dubbed the first case of its kind, a Pennsylvania schoolgirl has sued her local school district under claims that her classmates' bullying, and the school's knowledge and failure to act, caused her to become anorexic. The Pittsburgh public school district settled the anorexia bullying case for $55,000 -- a figure that the unidentified girl feels represents defeat.

The mother of the girl is quoted in the Post-Gazette, "I just don't feel that their settlement was fair. I thought something would change in the school and it's all about money, and it was never about the money. This little amount of money -- it doesn't matter what this child went through." The harassment often occurred during the lunch hour and would cause the girl to throw her lunch away instead of eating it. The mother partly atrributed the family's disappointment in the settlement to their private school tuition bills -- they now pay $6,000 a year to send her daughter to private school, and the girl is now ineligible for certain public school college scholarships.

Claiming harassment and a hostile work environment, the now 15 year-old girl and her mother arrived at the settlement figure after five hours of mediation with the Pittsburgh school district. The harassing classmates received a one day suspension for their taunts and were not a party in the action that named the school district, middle school, and school principal in the original suit. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that allows the parties to work with a neutral third party to agree on a settlement. Generally considered more procedurally efficient, cheaper, and faster than formal litigation, settlements are only reached at the approval of both parties.

Although the girl and her mother may be upset with the settlement, the agreement is a valid contract. In matters where a settlement figure arrived at via mediation is unacceptable, parties are generally advised to consult with their attorney and to not consent to the settlement if they feel the sum is inappropriate. When a party to a settlement cashes the settlement check (so to speak), that party generally gives up the opportunity to later bring suit in the matter. The Pittsburgh judge in the anorexia bullying case confirmed the settlement figure, and when she asked the girl if she had anything to say, the girl spoke to the Pittsburgh School District's attorneys, "Congratulations, because you won the case. You broke my heart, and I loved going to school. It's not even about the money."

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