School Football Allergy Incident: Texas Family Launches Lawsuit

in Food Allergy, Food Allergy News
Published: April 10, 2024
Carter Mannon

The family of Texas high school football player Carter Mannon is suing his former school district over their handling of the peanut allergy incident the sophomore endured. 

Carter’s mother, Shawna Mannon, filed the federal civil lawsuit against Lake Travis Independent School District (ISD) on April 6, 2024. It also names four district administrators, including the superintendent, the principal and the head football coach, who is also the athletic director. 

Carter, referred to as “C.M.” in the document since he’s a minor, is severely allergic to peanuts. The drama that led to this lawsuit began on October 6, 2023 at Lake Travis High in suburban Austin. When Carter opened his football locker, he was shocked to realize that peanuts were strewn over his cleats and jersey.

The lawsuit contends that the teen has “endured persistent disability-based harassment, bullying, and assaults from teammates due to his life-threatening peanut allergies.” 

The complaint says the Texas school district is at fault for failing to adequately address the peanut allergy incident and continued harassment. It also accuses the district of failing to take action to prevent bullying against Carter or to enforce adequate disciplinary measures.

In an April 9 response, the Lake Travis ISD disagreed with the points raised in the Mannons’ legal complaint.

“We take all allegations of bullying and harassment seriously,” the district said in a statement. “We disagree with the allegations contained in the lawsuit, and we look forward to responding through the appropriate legal channels.”

The lawsuit, however, alleges the district’s “action and inaction created a hostile environment and exacerbated the situation, demonstrating deliberate discrimination against C.M. and causing him harm.” 

Texas Lawsuit: Locker Incident

Carter, now 16, was getting ready for an away game with his Lake Travis varsity football team when he opened his locker on October 6, 2023. As the offensive tackle picked up his cleats and jersey, peanuts fell out. He also saw peanut kernels in his locker and on the ground.

Carter broke out in hives from exposure to the peanuts. The lawsuit states that two perpetrators – football teammates – were behind scattering them in Carter’s locker the night before.

Some teammates also were seen laughing while sharing a video of the main perpetrator placing the peanuts, Carter’s mom told Allergic Living in November 2023. 

The day before, during a discussion about dinner plans, the two teammates behind the incident had asked questions like “could peanut kill you?” Carter had replied that, “it absolutely could kill me.” 

The Mannons say that Carter faced continuing backlash at the Texas school after reporting the peanut allergy incident. “Despite attempts to involve school officials, the harassment continued, leading C.M. to transfer to another district for his safety,” says their lawsuit.

Bullying Ruled Out, Lawsuit Follows 

Shawna Mannon has tried various avenues in her fight for accountability since her son was targeted for his allergy. But the Mannon family has not been satisfied with the Lake Travis school district’s response.

“We had exhausted our resources. We had done our due diligence. We’re going the legal route because we didn’t get what we wanted,” she told the Austin American-Statesman. The Mannons are seeking $1.5 million in damages in their lawsuit, which focuses on Carter’s disability rights.

The legal action comes after the school district concluded in March 2024 that the incident was not considered bullying. The district’s investigation showed that “the legal elements of bullying were not met” under the Texas Education Code, a district spokesperson said. 

The family’s legal action, however, contends that the district reached an erroneous conclusion on bullying under the education code.

During the district’s initial investigation of the peanut incident, potential criminal charges were discussed. The Lake Travis ISD Police Department determined that criminal charges were not warranted.

“We responded immediately when we learned of this situation, conducting a thorough investigation,” says the Lake Travis ISD in its April 9 statement. “The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority.”

Bullying became a focus after a November 2023 school board meeting, where Carter’s mom and other parents spoke about the locker incident, and sought stronger discipline.

The Mannons filed a grievance with the school district, which included seeking stiffer punishment for the two perpetrators. Shawna Mannon has said those football players only sat out two games. 

In response, the district agreed to provide more education about food allergies, but did not agree to stronger discipline. The family also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Focus on Disability Rights

The Mannons’ lawsuit accuses the district of violating their son’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires accommodations that ensure a student with a disability has equal educational access in publicly funded schools. Students with food allergies often qualify as having a disability under the ADA. This is because food allergies can affect eating and breathing, which Title II of the ADA calls “major life activities”. 

The lawsuit states that the district has documented knowledge of Carter’s allergies. The teen’s allergy action plan notes his allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, along with having asthma. 

The complaint speaks of a reaction Carter experienced in the fall of 2022, his freshman year. He’d purchased a cookie at the cafeteria, which was supposed to be free of nuts. The teen suffered an allergic reaction, was taken to hospital by ambulance and needed two epinephrine doses.

Taunting About Allergy Incident

The locker allergy incident was discussed again during a March 2024 Lake Travis school board meeting. The lawsuit says speakers there, including some football players, implied that Carter and his mom were lying about what happened.

Since speaking up about the peanut incident, Carter has been the target of harassment and ridicule. The backlash has included a peanut butter granola bar being placed in his backpack, and repeated verbal taunting. According to the lawsuit, one of the perpetrators even bragged about the incident as “attempted murder”. 

The lawsuit also points to continued cyberbullying, which includes various social media posts ridiculing Carter and his peanut allergy. The lawsuit states that the Lake Travis school district has not addressed the bullying on social media.

In February 2024, Carter transferred to a high school in another Texas district. “The pervasive bullying significantly impacted C.M.’s school experience, leading him to believe that transferring to another district was his only option to escape the harassment,” the lawsuit says.

Family Seeks Remedies

The document accuses Lake Travis ISD and the related defendants of failing “to take appropriate actions to address the bullying and harassment based on C.M.’s disability.” The lawsuit says they were aware “it was interfering with C.M.’s ability to participate in school activities.” 

The administrators named in the suit are athletics director Hank Carter, district superintendent Paul Norton, school principal Debbie Garinger, and assistant principal Sandra Surdy. 

In addition to financial compensation, the lawsuit seeks changes affecting how students with disabilities are treated in the school district. It requests that the District Court require the following as remedies:

  • Modify district policies to put an end to “unconstitutional and unlawful acts”.
  • Implement training for staff on discrimination based on disability.
  • Create guidelines on how school staff can address discrimination complaints related to a disability.

“This failure to address the ongoing bullying not only violated C.M.’s rights but also endangered his life,” the lawsuit states.

Related Reading:
Texas District Finds Football Allergy Incident Was ‘Not Bullying
Food Allergies at School: Plans & Laws to Keep Kids Included