A federal court judge in New Hampshire has approved a settlement involving a male student and Phillips Exeter Academy in the wake a jury verdict in favor of the student and his family against the school for its mishandling of a disciplinary matter.
In November 2016, following expedited discovery and a five-day jury trial on a complaint filed Aug. 30, 2016, Max D. Stern and Megan C. Deluhery persuaded a federal jury in New Hampshire to find in favor of a teenage student who had been expelled by Phillips Exeter Academy for alleged violation of sexual misconduct policies.
Stern and Deluhery argued that the boy had sex with a girl in his grade, both were under 15, and the school expelled the boy while it took no disciplinary actions against the girl. They also argued that the school failed to follow the detailed disciplinary process set out in its student handbook, instead allowing an outside lawyer with limited litigation experience act as judge and jury and essentially determine the student’s fate.
Stern and Deluhery asserted at trial that the school had agreed the boy could return to school after only one term if he met conditions imposed during that leave. After the boy met all conditions, the school nonetheless refused to allow his return.
The boy, through his mother, also asserted claims for breach of the student handbook when the school failed to follow its disciplinary hearing process, and also that the school discriminated against him on the basis of sex in how it investigated and imposed discipline.
The jury ruled in favor of the firm’s client on all three claims, after deliberating for only two hours, resulting in a monetary damages award in favor of the client, and leaving to the trial judge further review and determination on the student’s request for reinstatement at the school.
Following the verdict, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph N. LaPlante ordered that the boy be temporarily reinstated pending a further hearing. The student re-enrolled in December 2016.
The parties subsequently determined that further adversarial proceedings were unnecessary and they jointly moved for entry of a Consent Order to end the litigation and allow the student to remain enrolled at Phillips Exeter. Under the Consent Order, the student remains enrolled at the school and the prior disciplinary matter, including the investigation reports, cannot be relied upon by Phillips Exeter in any future matters involving the student.