SANTA ROSA, Calif. – A Sonoma County judge ruled Tuesday that a Mormon high school student who sued after being disciplined and then mercilessly teased for using the phrase "That's so gay" was not entitled to monetary damages.
Superior Court Judge Elaine Rushing said that while she sympathized with 18-year-old Rebekah Rice for the ridicule she experienced at Maria Carrillo High School, her lawyers had failed to prove that school administrators had violated any state laws or singled the girl out for punishment.
"All of us have probably felt at some time that we were unfairly punished by a callous teacher, or picked on and teased by boorish and uncaring bullies. Unfortunately, this is part of what teenagers endure in becoming adults," the judge wrote in a 20-page ruling. "The law, with all its majesty and might, is simply too crude and imprecise an instrument to satisfactorily soothe deeply hurt feelings."
The case filed by Rice and her parents in 2003 brought widespread attention to a three-word phrase that some teenagers use to mean "stupid" or "uncool," but has come under attack as an insensitive insult to gay people young and old.
The Rices argued that a teacher at Maria Carrillo High violated Rebekah Rice's First Amendment rights by sending her to the principal's office and putting a note in her school file. During a trial in February, Rebekah Rice testified she said "That's so gay," as a response to other students asking her rude questions about her Mormon upbringing.
Rushing said the school district was not liable for monetary damages because the law under which the Rices brought the lawsuit specifically excludes schools. In addition, she said that school officials are given wide latitude in deciding how to enforce non-discrimination provisions of the state education code.
"The decision to impose graduated discipline on Rebekah is one that falls squarely within the discretion of the defendants," the judge wrote, adding that it didn't make sense to have the referral stricken from the girl's school record since she graduated last year.
The lawsuit also accused the public high school of having a double-standard because, they say, administrators never sought to shield Rebekah from teasing based on Mormon stereotypes. It further alleged the Rices were singled out because of the family's conservative views on sexuality.
In Tuesday's opinion, Rushing rejected each claim, going so far as to suggest that the Rices had created a miserable situation for Rebekah by advertising their dissatisfaction with the school's handling of the incident during her freshman year.
"If the Rice family had not told everyone that Rebekah had been given a referral for saying 'That's so gay' then no one else would have know it either, and she would not have been referred to as the 'That's so gay girl,"' the judge wrote.
Neither the Rices nor their lawyer returned telephone calls seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Rushing concluded her ruling by saying that even if the judicial branch could not help in this case, the Rices have other options, including running for school board or lobbying to change state laws.
"Through their many activities at their children's schools, plaintiffs have generated a great deal of dialogue about the extent to which our schools should become involved in traditionally non-academic subjects such as morality, religion, sexuality and politics," she said.