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Victim Of Homophobic Bullying Wins $440,000 Settlement

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Victim Of Homophobic Bullying Wins $440,000 Settlement

by Garance Burke Associated Press

Posted: December 24, 2005 12:01 am ET

(Kansas City, Missouri) A Kansas teenager who was bullied by his classmates because they believed he was gay was awarded $440,000 in a settlement, ending his longstanding legal battle with the Tonganoxie School District, his lawyer said.

Dylan Theno, 18, sued the district in May 2004, claiming he was harassed with homophobic slurs from the seventh grade until he quit school in his junior year. The settlement, reached Thursday, halts further appeals in the case, which has been presented in courts in Kansas and Colorado, said Theno's lawyer, Arthur Benson.

Under the terms of the settlement, the school district and its insurance company will pay Theno $440,000, which will also be used to pay his legal fees, Benson said.

Theno had testified that he is not gay.

"I expect this case will have profound effects nationwide in dealing with schoolyard bullying and harassment," said Benson. "Insurance companies will have a very powerful economic incentive to see that districts' anti-harassment policies are aggressive and effective."

Theno, who recently earned his GED and attends a vocational technical school in Kansas City, Kan., said he was surprised by the settlement.

"I feel great," he said. "I mean, you have all that lifted off your shoulders at once. The school district has finally been held accountable for their actions."

Repeated calls to the school district and to the district's attorney, Steven Pigg, were not immediately returned.

The Theno family's suit claimed the harassment from other students was so severe and unbearable that Dylan was forced to leave school.

According to the suit, the district enforced its sexual harassment policy when it involved a male student harassing a female student but did nothing when classmates began calling the plaintiff "fag" and "masturbator boy" when he was 12.

The suit also said the harassment denied Theno access to an education because of his gender in a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

In August, a federal jury in Kansas City, Kan., awarded the former student $250,000 in damages. (story) But after the school district appealed, a circuit court ordered a federal mediator to attempt to settle the dispute.

On December 15, U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum ruled the district should pay an additional $270,000 to cover the Theno family's legal fees and expenses.

Now that the suit has concluded, Theno said he plans to concentrate on "living how I am, going to school and working."

"School is supposed to be a safe and fun learning environment and when kids are walking through the hallway scared, it's not safe or fun," Theno said. "Now it's finally over for good."

©365Gay.com 2005

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