On Monday, a three-judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City upheld a $1 million jury award to a Latino man who endured 3 1/2 years of racial harassment at a rural high school in New York.
Anthony Zeno transferred from Long Island to Stissing Mountain High School in Pine Plains, New York for his Freshman year of high school. A number of students used Zeno’s race as a basis to taunt, harass, menace, and physically assault him, according to court documents.
Court documents identified Zeno as a “dark-skinned,” “half-white, half-Latino.”
The town of Pine Plains, NY is close to 92% white, according to the 2010 Census. In 2005, when Zeno entered the school there were 439 white students, 8 blacks students and 6 Latinos.
During Anthony’s fourth year, he reported fewer incidents of harassment to SMHS authorities. When incidents did occur, however, they were serious. For example, at an SMHS football game in September 2007, a student called Anthony’s sister a “slut” and threatened to kick Anthony’s “black ass.” Anthony and this student began to fight. Anthony’s friend tried to intervene and break up the fight when another student suddenly “jumped” Anthony’s friend, choking him until he lost consciousness. Off-duty officers broke up the fight. The student who choked Anthony’s friend ultimately received a 45-day suspension.
Students continued to call Anthony a “nigger” in the hallways “all the time,” and he reported these comments to Howe. Similarly, he encountered continued racial harassment on the bus to his off-campus BOCES program.
“We conclude there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the jury’s finding that the District’s responses to student harassment of Anthony amounted to deliberate indifference to discrimination,” Judge Denny Chin wrote for the unanimous panel.
Chin continued: “He received explicit threats as well as implied threats, such as references to lynching.”
Zeno “was a teenager being subjected — at a vulnerable point in his life — to three-and-a-half years of racist, demeaning, threatening, and violent conduct,” the court said in their decision. “Furthermore, the conduct occurred at his school, in the presence of friends, classmates, other students, and teachers. The jury reasonably could have found that the harassment would have a profound and long-term impact on Anthony’s life and his ability to earn a living.”