PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A federal jury has found school district in an affluent Oregon suburb liable for the hazing of a freshman girl whose fellow dance team members forced to wrestle in oatmeal and syrup.
The girl, now a senior at Lakeridge High School, said the Lake Oswego School District didn’t prevent hazing at mandatory “team initiation” events and didn’t protect her from the retaliation that followed when she reported it. Her parents, Ray and Taissa Achcar-Winkels, sued on her behalf in March 2015.
Over the next three years, the girl’s lawyer says, students continued to punish the girl for speaking out.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman refused to dismiss the case in 2015, and the four-day trial began Oct. 31.
Three days before trial, the girl went out to her car, attorney Leta Gorman with Betts Patterson Mines told the jury during opening arguments. Written in lipstick were the words “Fuck you, bitch,” Gorman said.
In a decision late Friday, the jury found the school district and the high school principal were liable for negligence. The jury awarded $70,000 to the girl and her parents.
The principal and school district waited until November 2014 to launch an investigation – three months after the girl reported the hazing and harassment to an assistant coach. The internal investigation found the hazing had occurred and faulted the district for declining to immediately investigate.
The jury assigned 80 percent of liability to the district, with the remaining 20 percent going to Principal Jennifer Schiele.
The other defendants – Superintendent Heather Beck, Lakeridge Principal Jennifer Schiele, former school Athletic Director Ian Lamont, former dance coach Kayla Nordlum, former assistant coach Ashley Nordlum and team volunteer Suzanne Young – were cleared of wrongdoing after the jury declined to assign blame based on the charges against them.
But Gorman, the girl’s lawyer, insisted that the end result was still a big win.
“This case was never about the money,” Gorman told Courthouse News. “It was about holding the district accountable. The fact that the jury said yes, the district screwed up, Principal Schiele screwed up – we’re thrilled.”
Karen Vickers, who represented Schiele and the district, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In her closing arguments on Friday, Vickers told the jury that the district regretted the hazing happened, but that it wasn’t responsible.
“This case is really about an unfortunate night where some high school kids did some stuff that they probably shouldn’t have,” Vickers said. “And none of those kids are here today. The adults tried to respond reasonably to a really tough situation.”
The girl was attending her classes at press time on Monday. Gorman said the girl worried about continued retaliation, despite the verdict in her favor.
“She’ll always be known as ‘Sabrina the Snitch,’” Gorman said Monday. “But she’s hopeful that she can be an inspiration to stand up against what’s wrong.”