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Law Offices of Jonathan M. Cooper

Defining "Bullying" Under New York Law

In response to both a lawsuit and a maelstrom of negative publicity arising out of the purported sexual assaults and bullying of its high school students by some of its faculty, a New York-based private school not only retained an outside firm and launched a large-scale investigation as to the merits (or the lack thereof) of these former students' claims, but also charged this firm with the task of compiling a comprehensive anti-harassment (and anti-bullying) policy for the school.

Naturally, and as part of the policy manual adopted by the school, the manual, in delineating prohibited conduct - and the specific protocols to be followed in the event of any misconduct, necessarily defined bullying. Its definition, which I think is rather good, is as follows:

"Any form of physical, verbal, demonstrative, or electronic harassment that one should reasonably 
expect would demean, threaten, or physically or emotionally hurt its victims or others at [the school]. 
It can be of a sexual nature or otherwise. It can take place in person, over the phone, in 
cyberspace, or through an on-line communication, or any other means that communicates such 
harassment. It can be one-on-one or group-based. Both adults and children can be bullied or be 
the bully. "
 
The manual then proceeds to specify some examples of bullying, which include the following:
  • pushing, elbowing, poking, tripping, sitting on, kicking, or hitting 
  • threatening another with physical harm 
  • taunting others because of their physical traits including, but not limited to, age, voice, height, weight, athletic skill, social skills or any other personal characteristic 
  • taunting others, either verbally or using gestures (or using derogatory terms) about their actual or perceived sexual orientation, race, color or national origin 
  • excluding someone from a group or activity purposely to hurt them, e.g., refusing to let someone sit at a particular lunch table 
  • damaging, hiding, taking of property
  • posting on Facebook, or any other on-line social networking site, or texting mean, offensive, demeaning, embarrassing, or threatening comments or images 
If you or a loved one has been the target of on-going or systematic bullying at school or work, we strongly suggest that you contact a qualified attorney in your area to ascertain what steps you should take to protect your interests.

Jonathan Cooper
Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer