Shelby v. Huntsville City Board of Education
This federal civil rights case involves the tragic death of Nigel Shelby, a Black, openly gay freshman at Alabama’s Huntsville High School who died by suicide at age 15 after experiencing unchecked LGBTQ+ harassment and race discrimination at school. Nigel never felt safe at Huntsville High School. Students subjected him to anti-gay slurs nearly every day and routinely told him that nobody cared about him and he should kill himself for being gay. Nigel was also physically assaulted on the school bus because of his sexual orientation.
The school’s lead administrator for the freshman class, Jo Stafford, knew about the harassment and the devastating impact it was having on Nigel: Nigel told her how upset he was over the harassment, and a concerned classmate told her that Nigel was cutting himself and expressing suicidal thoughts. Instead of helping Nigel, Stafford blamed him for his own harassment, saying it was the price he had to pay for being gay. She also mocked Nigel for complaining, asking if this was “another one of his episodes where life is getting too hard and things get tough and we want to kill ourselves.” Piling on, Stafford suggested that Nigel and his classmate get up and dance to “black people’s music” to make Nigel feel better.
Nigel’s estate and heirs (his parents) filed suit against the Huntsville City Board of Education and Jo Stafford, asserting violations of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin; and the Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits both race and sex discrimination. The suit alleges that Nigel was deprived of educational opportunities, and ultimately his life, because of the defendants’ deliberate indifference to the anti-gay harassment he was experiencing, a lack of adequate training to prevent and address such harassment, and their own intentional discrimination against Nigel.
The parties are currently engaged in discovery.
- Adele Kimmel and Alexandra Brodsky
Jasmine Rand of Rand Law, L.L.C., Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law PLLC, and Lynn Sherrod and Kenneth Cole of Conchin, Cole, Jordan & Sherrod