Written by WCPO’s Christian LeDuc
A Northern Kentucky woman is suing the Diocese of Covington, St. Joseph Catholic Church Middle School and all teachers, faculty and staff involved in what her lawsuit claims is the “intentional discrimination and harassment of a Black student with disabilities.”
Covington’s J. Davis Law Firm said it plans to file a civil complaint Monday claiming that an eighth grader was called a racial slur by another student, and then her teacher said the same word multiple times in class.
“There’s been a lot of pain, anger on behalf of the family,” said Jamir Davis, the family’s attorney.
In March 2023, the girl’s mother told school administrators that another student called her child the n-word after she refused to share her answers to an assignment with that student in class, according to the complaint. She said her child is the only African American in the class.
The mother says the school administration told her they would investigate the incident. According to the complaint, that never happened. The mother claims the school failed to discipline the student, which resulted in her daughter facing bullying, harassment and intimidation by the student.
Davis said the family is filing this lawsuit anonymously to protect the student. The complaint refers to the student as Jane Doe and her teacher is referred to as C.B.
“The student called her the n-word. Jane immediately told her teachers, reported it, and the school said they were going to do an investigation but never did one to our knowledge,” Davis said.
Then, according to the complaint, the eighth grader’s English teacher in April asked everyone in the class to raise their hands if they were Black. The girl refused to comply with the request because she felt shocked, embarrassed and singled out, the complaint states.
The next day, attorneys claim the teacher used the n-word “repeatedly” during a lesson. The complaint alleges the teacher told the entire class that when she grew up, her parents said the word “all the time.” According to the complaint, the teacher told the class to “be careful who you say n***** around because you will be ex’ed out of our society.”
“Her classmates actually came to her defense and said you shouldn’t say that,” Davis said.
The girl’s mother brought the situation to the attention of the school administration but the complaint alleges that once again, no action was taken. She said the teacher retaliated against her daughter on multiple occasions.
The complaint states the teacher made comments to other students that the child looked Hispanic so she should not have been offended by her use of the “n-word.” According to the complaint, the teacher forced herself onto an elevator with the student and gave her an “intimidating lecture” on how she was taking her words out of context and that she needed to “drop the whole thing.” The complaint also alleges that the teacher would stare at the student for “extended periods of time” to intimidate her.
The complaint reports that the worst harassment and retaliation occurred during a sponsored mass ceremony led by the teacher. According to the complaint, the girl was “forced” into the teacher’s communion line where the teacher “purposely refused” the student the opportunity to experience communion. The teacher specifically targeted and retaliated against the girl because the teacher knew she had a communication disability and would have difficulty reporting her actions, the complaint reads.
According to the complaint, she has “flashbacks of the incidents and has suffered mental anguish, anxiety depression, shame, fear and a whole host of other emotions.”
“She’s undergoing therapy [and] counseling,” Davis said.
Davis said Jane’s outlook on life has changed. He said she has a learning disability which limits her ability to communicate.
“It’s hard for her to communicate her emotions and her feelings, and we think that’s the reason the teacher specifically targeted her because she new it would be difficult for her to say anything about it,” Davis said.
In a press release from the law firm representing the girl and her mother, attorneys said the girl’s family decided to pull her from “that class.” It is unclear if she was removed from the school entirely. Attorneys also claim that the school still has not done anything to address these issues.
The name of the student was not released because she is a minor. The name of the mother was also not released because that could lead to the identification of the minor, according to the complaint.
The law firm said the federal complaint includes the following causes of action:
- Race Discrimination, Title VI
- Race Discrimination, §1981 and §1983
- Disability Discrimination, Harassment, 9 U.S.C. §701 et seq.
- Disability Discrimination, Failure to Prevent in Violation of 29 U.S.C. §701 et seq.
- False Imprisonment
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- Retaliation §1983
- Negligent Hire, Retention and Supervision
The Diocese of Covington said in a statement Friday that they have yet to receive notice of litigation, but said “Bishop Iffert is eager for any opportunity to condemn racism.
“The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear,” the diocese said. “Racism is a moral evil. … The Catholic Church and the Diocese of Covington work to oppose and root out racism wherever we encounter this radical evil, especially in our Christian minds and hearts.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article erroneously said the lawsuit claims the teacher called the student the ”n-word” multiple times. The lawsuit claims the teacher said the word multiple times, not directed at the student.