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Mediation ordered for lawsuit filed against Brighton Area Schools

A mediation session is scheduled next month to facilitate a possible settlement of a lawsuit filed against the Brighton Area Schools district, along with its superintendent and high school principal.

It was filed in April of 2022 in U.S District Court in Detroit by a former student with developmental disabilities who alleges she was retaliated against following a 2019 sexual assault after which she was pressured into dropping her complaint to the police. The district has denied those allegations.

The then-19-year-old woman claims the district violated her rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title IX, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

The suit further alleges the defendants, who include Superintendent Matthew Outlaw and Brighton High School Principal Gavin Johnson, violated the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act by “Creating and Failing to Prevent a Sexually Hostile Education Environment” as well as retaliation and sex discrimination.

According to the the lawsuit, the plaintiff was diagnosed at about age five with Prader-Willi syndrome, which “affected her body, growth, and mind.” Medical resources describe it as a genetic disorder that often results in an insatiable appetite leading to morbid obesity and mild to moderate intellectual impairment.

The girl received special education services since middle school, and eventually graduated from Brighton High School.

The suit claims that on or about May 10, 2019, a student texted the plaintiff and asked her to stay after school and meet him at the Pooh’s Corner child care center, where he “tricked” her into going inside a bathroom where he had sex with her. The lawsuit claims the girl did not want to have sex with the boy, but “felt that she had no choice.” It further claims the same boy was caught having sex with another student that same month in that same bathroom and thus the district knew the boy “posed a risk to other children based upon his history of sexual misconduct.”

The suit says the same boy was also involved in another incident in July of 2019 at Brighton High School in which his 22-year-old cousin allegedly sexually assaulted a girl. That led to an explulsion hearing on August 28, 2019 in which a hearing panel consisting of a member of the District’s Board of Education and four administrators determined that while the boy violated the Student Handbook and Board policy, they recommended he be reinstated but suspended pending the outcome of the criminal investigation by law enforcement.

Also named in the lawsuit is Brighton High School special education teacher, Jody Renicker, who is alleged to have retaliated against the plaintiff after she reported the assault by breaking a promise to let her take a school picture with the classroom dog and then gave her a broken iPad which was never repaired. The suit further claims that after reporting the sexual assault, Brighton High School did not provide the same assistance to the plaintiff when she had difficulty in school and she was eventually provided home-based services to finish out the school year.

The suit says that on or about April 21, 2021, Ms. Renicker told the girl that she no longer needed to listen to her mother anymore because she was 18 years old and then pressured her to recant her story about being sexually assaulted. It then claims that when she did, the district called a police investigator to the school to have the “moderately disabled young girl, undergo a second interrogation regarding the rape.” It says that as a result of the sexual assault and retaliation, the girl “has suffered and continues to suffer severe emotional damage.”

While Brighton school officials have not publicly commented on the lawsuit, their overall legal response has been to state that as a governmental entity, they are immune to the litigation.

However, in court documents the district has denied many of the allegations made in the lawsuit, including that the girl was pressured to recant her story nor was she retaliated against. The district also contends that while they “lack information or knowledge on which to form a belief as to what occurred in the bathroom…the Plaintiff told law enforcement that what occurred in the bathroom was consensual.”

On May 3rd, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman ordered the case to facilitative mediation, which is set for July 11th. The order also states that all information disclosed during the session will remain confidential and that within two weeks of completion, the mediator will notify the court whether a settlement was reached. If an agreement is not reached, the matter will return to court for adjudication.

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