(Washington, D.C.) Late yesterday, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and its co-counsel DLA Piper filed a lawsuit against Pennridge School District and two school officials in Perkasie, Pennsylvania on behalf of DarbiAnne Goodwin, an 18-year-old student who was raped by a fellow student. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the defendants violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, the U.S. Constitution, and state laws when it repeatedly failed to respond to DarbiAnne’s reports of sexual harassment and protect her from further harassment. NWLC also represents a former student in a separate suit against Pennridge School District for its failure to address severe harassment.
DarbiAnne Goodwin was raped as a sophomore in December 2014 by a fellow student. After she and her mother told Pennridge High School officials about the rape, the perpetrator and some of his friends retaliated by viciously harassing DarbiAnne. Her harassers physically assaulted her, cursed her in the school hallways, and sent threatening texts detailing their plans to hurt her.
For two years, DarbiAnne and her mother begged school administrators for help. Yet the Pennridge School District failed to investigate the sexual assault or ongoing sexual harassment, discipline the perpetrators, or provide appropriate accommodations to keep DarbiAnne in school. Instead, the school suggested that DarbiAnne, who had been a straight-A student and an active member of the debate team and Student Council, should attend an “alternative school” whose student population consisted primarily of expelled students and those with behavioral challenges. The unaddressed harassment forced DarbiAnne to complete part of her sophomore year at home. She then officially withdrew from Pennridge High School during her junior year due to the harassment. When she re-enrolled for her senior year in September 2016, the school again refused to take action to separate her harassers from her and ensure she had equal access to educational opportunities.
“Pennridge School District violated the law by utterly failing to protect DarbiAnne and address the sexual assault and ongoing harassment she faced,” said Neena Chaudhry, NWLC Director of Education. “By turning a blind eye to DarbiAnne’s suffering, school officials essentially pushed her out of school and robbed her of her education. The school’s inaction also sends a terrible message to all students that when sexual harassment is swept under the rug, perpetrators have nothing to fear and survivors have no incentive to speak out. This callous approach is illegal and must change.”
“I used to love school,” said DarbiAnne. “But that ended after I was raped and my school refused to take even the simplest action to make me feel safe. Almost every day, my rapist and his friends harassed me. My grades plummeted and I rarely made it through an entire day at school. I dropped off the debate team and Student Council. Because Pennridge High refuses to address sexual harassment, I missed out on so many positive aspects of high school—and I’ll never get that back. And that’s why I’m standing up to make change for other survivors.”
If you would like to interview student DarbiAnne Goodwin or an NWLC education expert, please contact Maria Patrick (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 202-588-5180.
The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.