Litigating Against Schools

If your child is going through school, if you're a student in an academic institution, or if you work at a K-12 school or place of postsecondary education, that school is directly responsible for much of your quality of life. More than that, your school has a lot of control over the education you or your loved ones receive. If you are unhappy with the way your school is treating you, perhaps it's time to take a stand.

Schools should be safe. After all, if students are not safe, they cannot learn. If you feel that the atmosphere at your school is not conducive to education, or that you specifically have experienced unfair or harmful treatment, you have the option to file a lawsuit against your school. If you have exhausted all other avenues for relief, this may be your last option.

However, it's definitely not an action you should pursue on your own. Finding an experienced lawyer who knows how to litigate against schools successfully is a crucial part of your strategy. Fortunately, Joseph D. Lento is able to help. For years, he's helped students and families work towards a successful outcome to find relief.

Common Reasons to Consider Suing A School

Lawsuits are long, complex, and often draining processes. If you're considering this type of legal action, it's a good idea to make sure that you have a good enough reason to put yourself through this overwhelming experience.

Your basis for suing a school may be unique to you. On the other hand, there are several common reasons underlying litigation against schools. These may include:

  • Discrimination: Civil rights violations are illegal. If you believe that you have experienced fewer opportunities or discriminatory decisions, then you may have the basis for a lawsuit. Common types of discrimination may include discrimination based on sex, race, or religion.
  • Sexual Harassment: Your school has a responsibility to protect you or your student from harm. This includes protecting all students from any sexual misconduct, harassment, or assault that may occur on campus (or any sponsored off-campus activities).
  • Child Abuse: If your school condoned, stood by, or took active participation in any actions which resulted in the physical or verbal abuse of a child, that is not okay. Bringing a child abuse lawsuit against your school may result in a more healthy environment for all concerned.
  • Personal Injuries: If poor maintenance at your school resulted in your being in a harmful situation, then you could sue your school. As an example, if your school failed to maintain recreational or exercise equipment and you broke an arm as a result, you might have the basis for a lawsuit.
  • Unfair Suspension or Expulsion or Other Discipline: One common punitive measure that schools resort to in cases of academic misconduct is suspension or expulsion of the student at fault. However, if the student feels that they did not receive a fair trial (or if the initial accusation was, itself, unwarranted), any student suspended without fair cause can file a lawsuit.
  • Unfair Maintaining of Records and/or Unlawful Disclosure: Colleges and universities do not always fairly notate and/or maintain academic transcripts and/or disciplinary records.  In addition, schools sometimes inadvertently and/or improperly disclose a student's records in violation of FERPA (Family and Educational Rights Privacy Act).  Although monetary damages generally cannot be obtained under FERPA, steps can be taken to corrective action and/or otherwise rectify such a concern. 
  • Special Education: Since 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act has required schools to provide specific accommodations for students with special needs. If you or your student requires these accommodations, told the school about it, and received nothing (or inadequate support), you may be able to litigate for that reason.
  • Failure to Return Property: Finally, if your school has taken any of your belongings and failed to return them without due cause, then you can file a lawsuit to sue for its return.

There are many reasons you might consider filing a lawsuit against your school. Because it is such a decisive legal action, you will want to ensure that your chances of winning are high. In order to determine how substantive your case is, you will need to run all of your evidence by a lawyer you trust before initiating this process.

Exploring Other Avenues: What to Do Before Filing a Lawsuit

Filing a lawsuit is a final recourse for any students or employees seeking compensation or other relief from an institution. Because this is the ultimate step, you will want to make sure you have completed all other steps to seek relief prior to suing your school.

This is not just to save you the headache of the procedures that accompany a formal lawsuit. In many cases, when you seek to sue, you will need to prove that you have exhausted the other opportunities at your disposal, first. In particular, before you decide to file a lawsuit - and, essentially, take a legal stance against your school - it's a good idea to pursue negotiations with your school first. Working with your school towards a mutually favorable outcome will establish, if nothing else, that you tried.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of other actions you could consider taking before you decide to proceed with a lawsuit:

  1. Consult with an experienced legal advisor: Taking the time to talk with a lawyer who specializes in your type of grievance will be invaluable. They will be able to use the benefit of years of expertise to help you decide whether you have an adequate case. If you don't have enough of a case for a formal suit, your legal advisor may be able to help direct you toward another way to preserve and protect your rights. If, on the other hand, you do have enough evidence for a case, your legal advisor can help you work from the very beginning to craft a case that is compelling and likely to win. Regardless, your legal advisor will help you preserve your reputation prior to your suit - which can make all the difference in terms of a favorable outcome.
  2. Go through the grievance procedures set forth by your school. This will show that you had every intention, at least initially, to resolve any issues or to work towards relief in ways approved by your academic institution. Even if you have no hope that this process will actually work, it's a very important step in the lawsuit process. This may include a formal investigation, a hearing, and more. Make sure that your legal advisor knows that you plan to sue if the wrong against you is not corrected by following due process. Your advisor will help you go through the process with this ultimate end goal in mind. As you go through due process, make sure to keep copies of everything. You may be able to use it as evidence later.
  3. File an appeal of any undesirable consequences or punitive measures your school deems appropriate. Before filing a lawsuit, one of the last ways to assert your preferences to your school is simply by appealing their decisions. After your school has made a final decision, you will likely have a short window of time (typically 5-10 business days) to file an appeal. Even if you don't believe your school will change its mind, an appeal is one way to show your school that you mean business, and that you will fight until you are satisfied with the outcome. Remember that if you are able to resolve your matter with the school prior to taking the extreme step of settling a lawsuit, you will be better off. Filing this appeal will take extra time, but it will be time well-spent.

If all of these measures fail, it might be time to work against the school towards relief. The most common way to do this is to file a lawsuit.

Prior to initiating the lawsuit process, you will want to do two things: Gather all the evidence you possibly can that may affect your case, and select an experienced attorney to assist you at every stage of your suit.

If you're concerned about the amount or type of evidence that you have, a simple rule of thumb is simply to keep everything. Even if it doesn't seem particularly compelling to you, a text message or social media post could influence the outcome of your case. Your legal aid can help you go through evidence, witness interviews, environmental analyses, and more to help you put together your strongest case.

Since your legal representation is crucial to your odds of success, you will need to make sure that your legal advisor is up to the task. Make sure that they have a history of handling your specific type of case with success. Joseph D. Lento has worked with students across the United States for years to protect their rights and pursue relief, and he can do the same for you.

How to Sue a School: A Quick Overview

If you have considered your motivation for initiating litigation against your school and are sure that you are ready to proceed, you need to make sure that you pursue a methodical strategy. Here are the steps you'll need to take in order to successfully file a lawsuit against your academic institution:

  1. Find an experienced lawyer. Remember that your school likely has a very robust team of legal experts working to protect them at all times. Even if you have legal experience yourself, that's a lot to be going up against. Your first step needs to be finding an advisor or attorney who has specific experience litigating against schools—successfully.
  2. See if you have a compelling cause of action. This step is the crux of the whole matter: You and your legal advisor will go through your complaint and your evidence to see if you have a real basis for a formal lawsuit. This will likely relate to one of the common reasons for filing a lawsuit that you'll find listed above, but any compelling reason to file a lawsuit will work - as long as you have evidence. This is one reason that having a lawyer you trust is key: You need to know that they will be honest with you as they help you assess your case. If you do have enough evidence, your legal aid can help you determine the best way to present it. 
  3. Prior to a lawsuit, file an administrative complaint. This may seem like a redundant step, but it helps lay the groundwork for later legal efforts. Sometimes, this is even referred to as "exhausting your administrative remedies".  Your local courts might in fact require it before you're able to file a lawsuit. If your school does not have easily-accessible documentation for you to use, for the sake of reference, you can check out your state's chapter of the ACLU; they will likely have a universal complaint form that you can use for the sake of reference. Once your attorney has successfully filed this complaint, your attorney can work with the school to investigate the claim. As with all steps in dealing with school-related concerns and injustice, it is critical to have an experienced attorney helping you through the process, and this is of course the case when considering and pursuing any administrative remedies.  
  4. Put together a compelling lawsuit, and file it. If the school does not resolve your complaint in the way you requested, you have legal right to file a lawsuit. This will involve taking your case to court, so you'll have to go through your local clerk's office to find the specific documentation applicable to your case. One benefit of working with an experienced attorney is simply that they will already know how to handle this step, and can likely take care of it for you.

After you've filed your lawsuit, the final thing to do is follow it through. If you and your legal team believe you have a sound case, you can hope for success and imminent relief. Regardless of the outcome, you can rest assured that you did everything you possibly could to fight in the best interests of you or your family.

Joseph D. Lento is Ready to Help You Work Towards a Favorable Outcome

A crucial step in successfully litigating against your school is finding a competent, experienced legal team able to do so with efficiency and skill. Luckily, Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are ready to help you today. Joseph D. Lento has a firm understanding of the many issues that students and others in academia face. If you or your student faces a specific concern or if you feel your family has experienced unfair treatment, Joseph D. Lento is ready to help you pursue justice. No matter where you are in the United States, the Lento Law Firm can assist. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for help.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations – the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website.  In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton County.  In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County,  In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties.  Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law.  The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship.  The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.

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