$100 Million Wrongful Death, Anti-Bullying Lawsuit Against Latin Names a “Who’s Who” of Chicago Business
As corporate executives are named in expanded suit, violations of state law and school policy appear “clear cut” in case against school
It has been over a year since 15-year-old Nate Bronstein took his life due to continuous bullying and cyber-bullying by classmates at the Latin School of Chicago. Whereas Latin, the school Nate attended for one semester, has sued its insurer, Liberty Mutual Insurance, the Bronsteins also filed an amended lawsuit in November naming several prominent Chicago families as well as Latin faculty and staff.
Some very prominent Chicagoland business leaders were also included in the lawsuit.
- The President of United Airlines, Brett Hart and his son (his wife Dontrey Britt Hart is a board member at the school)
- The CFO and Managing Partner at Bain & Company, Steve McLaughlin and his son
- Zaid Alsikafi, a Managing Director at Chicago based Madison Dearborn and his son
- David Koo, former Chairman of the Board at Latin, (with alleged close ties to Dunn based on numerous conversations with Latin parents) Round Table Health Care Partners and current Board Chair of the Shed Aquarium (formerly the Board Chair at Latin School of Chicago)
Other families named in the suit include:
- Leigh Ballen a real estate lender and his son – his wife is a prominent Latin alum
- David Goldhaber, a litigator at Wilson Elser and his son
- Antonio Lugo of Smart Wealth Strategies Inc and his son
- Mark Solovoy a Managing Director at Monroe Capital and his son
Other named individuals include Jason Anderson, Executive director JPMorgan Chase Private Bank and his son and Florian Depenthal, an artist and his son. Finally, Chanel King, mother and Director of Operations at Latin itself and her son were also named in the amended suit.
At the same time, several of the families named in the Bronstein lawsuit have filed motions to dismiss. All motions claim the "suicide rule" bars the Bronsteins from any claims against the families. That rule states that suicide “is unforeseeable as a matter of law.” Meanwhile, the Bronsteins claim both the parent and child committed “intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and violation of the Illinois Parental Responsibility Law.”
That law can hold the parents liable for the behavior of the child, provided the behavior was not “accidental” in nature. In the case of repeated cyber bullying, the parents and children named in the lawsuit will not likely be able to use “accidental” as a defense, particularly in cases where there were repeated taunts and texts.
Interestingly enough, in one motion to dismiss, Mark Solovy claims he had been invited to a service at the Bronstein home just after Nate’s death. Solovy's motion to dismiss suggested that because of this, the family has no claim against him or his son.
In addition, Solovy’s motion to dismiss acknowledges that the Bronsteins, via their attorney, know that Solovy’s son did not initiate any of the harmful texts but was indeed on the text string and allegedly did not report the abuse to anyone. The Bronsteins did give Marc Solovy notice twice that their son was bullying Nate and the Solovys took no action to stop it, according to the amended lawsuit. The Bronsteins were not aware of the extent of the cyber bullying nor the text strings until two weeks after the religious service held immediately after Nate’s death.
At the crux of the case, however, lies Latin’s policy on bullying and cyberbullying. The Bronsteins claim that Latin failed to implement and follow its own documented policies, (all schools must reevaluate their policy and programs to counter bullying, and submit these to the Illinois State Board of Education every two years).
Chicago Contrarian reviewed the detailed policy Latin had submitted to the state via FOIA request as well as the handbook provided to all families upon matriculation each year. The bullying prevention policy contained the following situations the school uses to evaluate any form of bullying.
Nothing happens if the circumstances don’t fall within one of the four situations:
- During any Latin sponsored education program or activity;
- While in school on Latin’s property, on school buses or other school vehicles, or at Latin sponsored or Latin-sanctioned events or activities
- Through the transmission of information from a Latin computer or iPad, a Latin computer network, or other similar electronic school equipment; or
- Through the transmission of information from a computer or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by Latin that is accessed at a non school-related location, activity, function, or program or from the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by the school if the bullying causes a substantial disruption to the educational process or orderly operation of the school. This item (4) applies only in cases in which a Latin school administrator or teacher receives a report that bullying through this means has occurred and does not require the school to staff or monitor any non school related activity, function or program.
In the case of Nate Bronstein, the cyberbullying occurred during and just after a school sanctioned basketball game (2). Nate informed a Latin school administrator that he was being cyberbullied and thus clearly Nate’s case applies to the rules set out by the school, suggesting a “clear cut violation of policy,” according to a private school expert interviewed by the Contrarian.
By definition, Latin explicitly defines what constitutes bullying: “Bullying means any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or electronically, directed toward a student or students that has or can be reasonably predicted to:
- Place the student in reasonable fear of harm to self or property;
- Cause a substantially determinate effect on the student’s physical or mental health
- Substantially interfere with the student’s academic performance and/or
- Substantially interfere with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from other services, activities or privileges provided by Latin."
Again, clearly “bullying” occurred according to the primary evidence presented in the Amended Case filing, as all of the above applied to Nate. It will be challenging for Latin to prove in court, that based on the evidence presented, that bullying did not occur.
The school separately has an explanation of cyberbullying in particular and states “it is also a form of prohibited bullying.” Perhaps most importantly, the school’s policy fully documents a procedure for reporting bullying, including a detailed listing of individuals to address reports of bullying. Four staff members named in the lawsuit are explicitly named in the policy along with a directive around making a “prompt investigation,” including an investigation within 10 school days after the date of the incident of bullying was received.
At a minimum, Nate’s meeting with the school, specifically with one of the four administrators named in the policy, occurred during December 2021, before winter break. Yet, according to the lawsuit, the family received no notification of that meeting with Nate, nor did the school commence any investigation prior to Nate’s death, as required per its own policy guidelines submitted to the Illinois State Board of Education to address, prevent and remediate such behavior in the first place.
Latin School of Chicago Student/Family Handbook 2021-2022
Moreover, in Latin’s 103-page student/family handbook, the school explicitly says, “In keeping with institutional aspirations to build an environment welcoming of diverse ideas, the upper school considers incidents where anyone in the school community is intentionally uncivil, disrespectful, or guilty of harassment, a violation of major school rules.”
Four specific types of behavior would fall under these rules. The behaviors include: Harassment, bullying, cyberbullying and hate speech. The handbook goes further, however, and also identifies the specific “Procedure for Reporting Harassment”. It calls for an individual who believes they have been subject to one of these behaviors to “notify a trusted adult in the school,” which clearly Nate Bronstein did when he spoke with Latin's Dean of Students, Bridgette Hennessy, on December 13, 2021.
Interestingly, Hennessy remains at the school and was neither put on sabbatical or fired. She is named in the lawsuit.
Latin also clearly calls out “discipline on school outings and trips” and specifically states that major school rules and behavioral expectations apply for members of athletic teams, performing groups or other organizations that represent the school off-campus during vacation periods and to all students during school trips.
Cyberbullying falls under the rubric of “major infractions” according to the school and thus would be subject to “disciplinary consequences & procedures.” Latin uses a “progressive discipline system in which behaviors are typically addressed at the lowest level possible.” From lowest level of discipline to highest the school has noted the following:
- Verbal reprimand -- can be given “on the spot”
- Written warning -- this is a more formal notice and communicated via email or progress report
- Behavior probation - this typically lasts one semester according to the handbook, a meeting is held with the student and parents, a formal letter is written, the student needs to regularly meet with an advisor or dean
- Additional resources will be offered/suggested.
- Withdraw Option
Such egregious behavior warrants more severe punishment. Curiously, Latin has doled out consistent punishment (including disciplinary options 6-8) for other bullying infractions at the school targeting protected classes of students under its DEI program which does not include Jewish families, whom it screens for “wokeness” in admissions.
“At Latin, unprotected classes of students have been asked to leave the community for saying they are unattracted physically to students of another race based on how the National Association of Independent Schools defines diversity at its NAIS People of Color Conference,” says a parent close to the school. “But if you tell the same unprotected class of student to kill themselves on social media and take a selfie sticking your middle finger out with an angry face in the same note, Latin’s actions tell us that is not a punishable offense, in violation of its own guidelines.”
While handicapping any legal case is fraught with the risk of the legal pockets of all parties, new evidence, witnesses, externalities and jury considerations, Chicago Contrarian would not want to be the insurer or re-insurer of the Latin School in this case. As to the “who’s who” of the parents and Latin board members also named in the case as defendants, only two things are certain. First, the legal fees for all parties will run into the millions. And second, at least a number of the parents will not be able to look at their children in the same way again based on the actions of family members that, directly or indirectly, led Nate Bronstein to take his own life.
In a related footnote to the entire story, Latin has seen a mass exodus of key staff who worked closely for former Head of School Randall Dunn, also named in the lawsuit, who departed last July; Kristine Von Ogden, Head of the Upper School, also named in the lawsuit resigned in January; David Koo, Chair of the Board and mentioned previously resigned from the Board; former Dean of Students, Joe Edwards resigned at the end of last year; and Katie O’Dea, Dunn’s Director of Communications resigned this year, in the middle of the school year. Shelley Greenwood, the assistant school principal will leave at the end of this year and finally, Deb Sampey who is head of the middle school will also leave at the end of the year.
As for the geometry teacher, Andrew Sanchez, who was also named in the lawsuit for publicly humiliating Nate in class, he still serves as an upper school math teacher. And the basketball coach Dustin Moran, named in the first Bronstein complaint? Well, yeah he’s still coaching basketball at Latin.