SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A San Diego student who was forced to urinate in a bucket at school won $1.25 million in damages when a jury decided in her favor Wednesday.
The student sued the school district and her teacher after she was denied a bathroom break during a 25-minute advisory class at Patrick Henry High School in 2012, when she was 14 years old. Instead, art teacher Gonja Wolf escorted the student to a supply room adjacent to the class, where she told her to urinate in a bucket and dump the contents down the sink, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Media coverage of the ordeal led to bullying, gossip and eventually depression that drove the girl to attempt suicide. The teen transferred schools twice before graduating from a charter school. The San Diego Unified School District denied her initial claim for $25,000.
“Something like this never should have happened to a 14-year-old girl just entering high school,” said attorney Brian Watkins told the news site. “She took the stand and told a really embarrassing story, she told the jury how this has affected her life and how she is still working through issues.”
During the trial, district attorneys said teachers were discouraged from allowing frequent bathroom breaks during the short advisory class, and Wolf strictly enforced the rule. The teacher had recently purchased a bucket to use as a toilet in case of a school lockdown and had used the make-shift urinal herself, according to her attorney, Fern Steiner.
SDUSD attorney Katheryn Martin said the incident was a “lapse of judgement” by Wolf, who “thought that was a good idea.”
Wolf was placed on paid leave after the incident and never returned to the school. Administrators apologized to the student and her family, but she was nonetheless teased relentlessly and hounded by the media. Watkins told the court the girl, now 19, remains in therapy for post-traumatic stress from the experience, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“She is very happy she was able to have her voice heard,” Watkins said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and this was one of the more peculiar cases I’ve had. The jury was fair and reasonable.”
District officials issued a prepared statement about the verdict, which included $1.25 million for damages and another $41,000 for medical expenses.
“We, of course, are disappointed and will be considering in the next few weeks whether or not to appeal,” SDUSD general counsel Andra Donovan said.