WT Wins: Jacqueline Simonovich and Ryan Abernethy Prevail in Private School Defense

On May 6, 2024, Ryan Abernethy and Jacqueline Simonovich overwhelmingly prevailed in a case brought by two plaintiffs, who were asked to withdraw from a private religious high school after taking a photo that appeared to be “an overt act of racism.” 

Plaintiffs brought five causes of action, including breach of contract, defamation, common law right to fair procedure, and violation of California Education Code § 48950.  The jury rightly found that the school did not breach its Student-Parent Handbook and did not defame the plaintiffs.  California Education Code section 48950 gives students in private schools the same First Amendment free speech rights as those in public schools, and the jury found that the school did not violate plaintiffs’ free speech rights.

While the jury did rule in plaintiffs’ favor regarding the common law right to fair procedure, this claim has never been applied to a high school, and the school has a strong basis for appeal.  Plaintiffs sought tens of millions of dollars in damages, but were ultimately only awarded a little over $500,000 each.  The jury also denied plaintiffs attorneys fees and punitive damages.