Attorney Tanenbaum Sets New Precedent in NJ Anti-Bullying Law

MWM is proud to announce that Attorney Jerry Tanenbaum has set a new precedent for New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Law in a recent case representing members of a high school basketball team.

In Attorney Tanenbaum’s own words:

“The case involved a high school girls’ basketball team coach who bullied a group of girls on his team because these particular girls also played in a town recreation league for a coach the school coach despised.  His aggressive actions against the girls included body shaming some of them for appearing too mannish; putting garbage in some of their hotel beds at an away tournament; demanding that one of them get out of the van at night after a game at a cemetery and pretending to drive away; and ongoing verbal abuse and name calling at practices.  His abuse resulted in some of the girls transferring to other schools, and some quitting basketball for good.

Not all of what we think in lay terms amounts to “bullying” constitutes a violation under the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Act.   Instead, a violation occurs only if the bullying is based on a “distinguishing characteristic” of the student.  For example, if the bullying is because of the student’s race or being overweight or special needs, a violation occurs.  On the other hand, if the bullying is because of a dispute between the two students it is not a violation of the Act no matter how egregious the bullying behavior might be.

In this case, the District had rejected the bullying complaint filed by the Parents of the bullied girls, on the grounds that the association these girls had with a third party could not constitute the statutory requirement of a personal “distinguishable characteristic.”   When the Parents filed an appeal with the Commissioner, the District moved to dismiss the Complaint on the same basis.

Today we received a ruling (attached above) rejecting the District’s objection and holding that a relationship with a third party can be a “distinguishing characteristic” for purposes of the Act, especially when the bully has power over the target and had not arisen out of some sort of mutual dispute.

This ruling now makes clear for the first time in New Jersey that a relationship with a third party can be the “distinguishing characteristic” required by the Statute.” –Attorney Jerry Tanenbaum

Attached is the court’s order regarding the ruling.