CLARKSBURG – The parents of a transgender Harrison County teenager who says he was harassed by a Liberty High School assistant principal last year has filed suit against the school board.
The parents of Michael Critchfield – identified only as J.C. and C.C. – filed the complaint on behalf of the minor Aug. 28 in Harrison Circuit Court against the county Board of Education. The boy currently is a junior at the Liberty.
“This action is a last resort,” said Loree Stark, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and one of the Critchfields’ attorneys on the case. “Time and time again, we have attempted in good faith to work with Harrison County Schools to create a safe environment for Michael and others like him, but school officials have not taken this seriously.”
Teresa Toriseva of Toriseva Law in Wheeling also is representing the family.
“What happened to Michael shouldn’t happen to any kid,” Toriseva said. “For four long minutes, Michael was held against his will by a man twice his size and who was in a position of authority, who was screaming at him and demanding he expose himself.
“We would not tolerate this kind of behavior from a student, and we certainly shouldn’t tolerate it from an assistant principal. And yet, the Harrison County School Board has done just that.”
The boy also provided a statement through the ACLU.
“Schools are supposed to protect students,” he said. “I’ve said all along I’m doing this to help other kids who are facing this same kind of treatment.”
In the complaint, the plaintiffs say the child and parents met with Liberty High School officials prior to his freshman year to tell them the transgender boy preferred to be referred to by his chosen name, that his pronouns were “he,” “his” and “him” and that he planned to use the boys restroom.
On Nov. 27, 2018, the complaint says the boy needed to use the restroom after school before a trip to Morgantown with the school band. He went to the boys restroom near the school cafeteria.
“Moments later, Mr. Lee Livengood, an assistant principal at Liberty High School, followed M.C. into the restroom and began berating M.C. while he was in the stall regarding M.C.’s choice of bathroom,” the complaint states. “M.C. explained that he was a boy and that is why he was using that restroom and that the restroom was empty when he entered.
“Mr. Livengood, then challenged M.C. to ‘come out here and use the urinal’ in front of him if he was really a boy. Mr. Livengood demanded that M.C. expose his private area in front of and in the presence of Mr. Livengood.”
The complaint says the boy explained he was born female but identifies as male.
“As M.C. exited the stall, Mr. Livengood blocked the exit of the restroom preventing M.C. from leaving the restroom,” the complaint states. “Mr. Livengood is a fully grown adult male and is much larger that M.C.
“Mr. Livengood confined M.C. in the restroom and verbally assaulted M.C. which frightened M.C. and made him fear for his safety and well-being. When M.C. escaped from the restroom, he was met by a parent of another child in the band. M.C. broke down into tears and began crying uncontrollably.
“Mr. Livengood, in the presence of this other parent then stated, ‘I’m not going to lie, you freak me out.’”
The parents say the spoke with school administrators within 24 hours of the incident. Livengood was suspended by the school board shortly after the incident, but he eventually returned to the job. And this spring, the board decided not to renew Livengood’s contract for the current school year. But soon after, the board reversed itself and voted to renew his contract.
After the incident, the plaintiffs say Livengood tried to intimidate and harass the child at school and school events.
“In the time following the incident, M.C. has suffered from severe anxiety associated with his education and his extracurricular activities,” the complaint states.
The complaint accuses the board of false imprisonment of the boy because of the bathroom incident.
“When M.C. exited the stall in the restroom, Mr. Livengood blocked the exit of the restroom and prevented M.C. from escaping the restroom without M.C.’s consent,” the complaint states. “Mr. Livengood intended to block M.C. in the restroom in order to intimidate, scare, and assault M.C.
“M.C. was aware he was being confined and knew of no other means of escape except the single entrance to the restroom which Mr. Livengood physically barricaded with his body.”
It also accuses the defendant of assault, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent retention, hiring and supervision
“While imprisoned in the restroom, Mr. Livengood berated M.C. demanding that M.C. expose himself and use the urinal in front of him,” the complaint states. “Mr. Livengood further placed M.C. in the reasonable fear of an immediate and nonconsensual touching. ..
“The student-school administrator relationship should entitle a student to a greater degree of protection from insult and outrage than if he were a stranger to a defendant.”
The complaint says the school board is negligent because Livengood is an employee and because it breached its duty by failing to immediately act to address the situation.
It says the boy suffered personal injuries and damages, including but not limited to suffering and mental anguish, past and future lost enjoyment of life, past and future humiliation, embarrassment, indignity, and shame, economic damages, diminished earning capacity and future lost wages.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages for permanent physical injuries, past and future pain, suffering and mental anguish, past and future lost enjoyment of life, past, and future humiliation, embarrassment, indignity, and shame, economic damages, diminished earning capacity and future lost wages. They also seek punitive damages as well as attorney fees, court costs and other relief.
They also seek injunctive relief to prevent Livengood from interacting with the boy. The complaint says he tries to interact with the boy despite a January meeting in which the board agreed to bring his interactions with the student to a minimum.
“Mr. Livengood did provide M.C. with a woefully inadequate written apology in which he apologized only for ‘raising his voice,’” the complaint states. “The defendant Harrison County Board of Education has been made aware of every time that Mr. Livengood has appeared in M.C.’s lunch period despite the fact that there are other school staff that are already present at these lunches.
“Mr. Livengood has demonstrated that he does not take the terms of the agreement seriously as he continues to try and manipulate his work duties to interact with M.C.”
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Christopher McCarthy.
Harrison Circuit Court case number 19-C-236