What is the Difference Between Bullying and Hazing? December 17, 2014

By Susan C. Stone

Bullying and hazing have become increasingly common in schools.  “Bullying” and “hazing” are often used interchangeably in conversation, but did you know they have different legal implications in Ohio?

HAZING

What is it?  Performing, or coercing another to perform, any act of initiation into an organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to the victim.

Who can be held liable?  Hazing is a crime in Ohio, so those who participate in school hazing may face criminal charges.  There is also an Ohio law that permits hazing victims bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator(s).  If hazing occurs in an educational setting, victims may sue the school and any school employee who “knew or reasonably should have known” about the hazing and who did not make “reasonable attempts to prevent it.”

HARASSMENT, INTIMIDATION, AND BULLYING

What is it?  Intentional written, verbal, electronic, or physical acts directed toward the victim on more than one occasion that causes mental or physical harm.  The acts must also be severe enough to create an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the victim.  Violence within a dating relationship is also harassment, intimidation, or bullying under Ohio law.

Who can be held liable?  Unlike hazing, there is no law in Ohio that specifically permits victims and their families to sue for harassment, intimidation, or bullying.  The answers to the following questions will depend on the facts and circumstances of your particular case:

(1)   Where can I file a lawsuit?  You may have claims in federal and/or state court.

(2)   What claims do I have/what can I sue for? Ohio claims include, but are not limited to, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery.  Federal causes of action include, but are not limited to, violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. 1983, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

(3)   Who is liable/who can I sue? Students, private schools, public school districts, and school/school district employees may be held liable for this type of behavior.

If you are concerned that your child has been bullied, intimidated, harassed, or hazed at school, contact Susan Stone to discuss.

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