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Gay Alumni Win Suit Against Poway School

Administrators failed to protect them, court says. Two are awarded total damages of $300,000.

June 10, 2005|Claudia Zequeira | Times Staff Writer

A San Diego Superior Court jury awarded two former Poway High School students a total of $300,000 after finding that school administrators failed to protect them from students who harassed them because they are gay.

In their lawsuit against the Poway Unified School District, Joseph Ramelli and Megan Donovan, both 19, said they were ostracized and verbally harassed by their peers for years.

"What they were told by school personnel is that they needed to be bigger than the other kids, to brush it off their backs -- that they needed to ignore it," said Paula Rosenstein, an attorney representing the teenagers.

On Wednesday, Ramelli received $175,000 from the jury, while Donovan was awarded $125,000 in compensation for damages.

During the five-week trial, Ramelli said students called him names, vandalized his car, shoved him in hallways, threw food and spit at him over a period of several years, beginning in his freshman year.

Donovan, who played for the junior varsity softball team, said she was ostracized by teammates when they learned she was gay, with one player saying she would no longer play on the team. Donovan also charged that she was prevented from joining the team in 2003 after tryouts, although the jury disagreed that the decision was made on the basis of her sexual orientation.

The teenagers, both of whom attend Palomar College, said the abuse was so severe both chose to be home-schooled during their senior year.

Poway High School is a mostly white, 3,000-student school just north of San Diego.

Don Phillips, superintendent of the Poway Unified School District and one of three defendants in the lawsuit, said in a statement that the school's staff provided "significant" support to both students. He also said the district would probably appeal the jury's decision.

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