‘Duty of care’: Teen sues Victoria’s education department over homophobic bullying


A teenager who attempted suicide after being repeatedly bullied at school for being gay is suing Victoria’s education department, and alleges the emotional trauma he suffered impaired his learning capacity.

Nathan Whitmore claims in a Supreme Court writ he was subjected to constant bullying, harassment, taunting and homophobic insults as a student at Somerville Secondary College between 2013 and 2015,  before he left in Year 9.

Nathan claims he complained to the school’s principal, assistant principal, five teachers and the student wellbeing officer about bullying, but nothing was done. His mother, Cathilee, alleges the school also never acted on her complaints and emails.

Nathan was 15 when he told The Age last year he was repeatedly the target of homophobic slurs from a boy in his class, while another bully threatened to kill him.

The bullying only stopped when Nathan reported it to police and Ms Whitmore was granted an intervention order against the ringleader.

“He would say, ‘You’re a gay faggot who everyone hates, just go kill yourself and get it over with, everyone would be happy and better off’,” Nathan said last year.

“In Year 7 it was mostly verbal but when I got to Year 8 he started pushing me around and kicking me until it got to the point where he bashed me with a skateboard. That’s when we went to the police and got the restraining order.”

Nathan left the Somerville school to move to Elisabeth Murdoch College in Langwarrin, where he felt happy and accepted. But he is currently not at school as he struggles with a major depressive disorder.

The Supreme Court writ, filed earlier this month, states that on top of the depressive disorder, Nathan had also been suicidal, suffered weight loss and anorexia, had sleep problems and anxiety and was socially withdrawn.

He is suing the Department of Education and Training for an undisclosed sum that would cover the thousands of dollars Ms Whitmore spent in counselling and other medical expenses for her son, and for pain and suffering.

The writ says a psychiatrist last year found Nathan had suffered a learning impairment through the result of his emotional injuries and chronic post-traumatic stress, and would not reach his educational potential.

The emotional injuries would therefore limit his future employment options and earning capacity, the psychiatrist found.

Nathan and his mother claim the Somerville school failed to provide adequate supervision and protect him from the bullying students, failed to discipline the bullies, failed to take heed of the complaints and did not provide the teenager with counselling.

Somerville Secondary College principal Christopher Lloyd declined to comment on Tuesday. He has previously acknowledged there was bullying and that Nathan had been physically and verbally “harassed, bullied and intimidated” by a boy who recruited other students to abuse Nathan.

A spokesman for the Department of Education and Training said the department could not comment because the case was before the court.

Nathan has spent time in hospital after attempts on his own life and still self-harms as a way to deal with the emotional pain.

He says he has aspirations to study nursing and counsel other victims of bullying.

Shine lawyers general manager Stuart Le Grand said the impact of the bullying had been devastating for Nathan and his family, and had reduced his enjoyment and quality of life.

Mr Le Grand said it was imperative schools provided a safe and supportive environment for their students.

“Schools owe their students a duty of care and where this is breached, they may be held liable for the damage and may be compelled to compensate those who’ve been harmed,” he said.

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‘Duty of care’: Teen sues Victoria’s education department over homophobic bullying

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