A. H. et al vs Saint Francis High School of Mountain View, California et al

  • Court: California State, Santa Clara County, Superior Court
  • Case Number: 20CV369829
  • Filed: August 21, 2020
  • Judges: Frederick S. Chung | Peter H. Kirwan | Thang Barrett | Sunil R. Kulkarni | Nicole L. Isger
  • Case Type: Breach of Contract/Warranty Unlimited (06)
  • Cause: Wrongful Act

Parties Involved

  • Plaintiff(s): A. H., a minor, by and through his parents Bruce H. and Tanya H. | H. H., a minor, by and through his parents Francis H. and Wendy C
  • Counsel for Plaintiff: Krista Lee Baughman
  • Expert witness for Plaintiff(s): Matthew Clark | Mary Angela Shaughnessy | Dr. Robert Massa | Christine Davis, CPA/CFF, CVA, CGMA
  • Defendant(s): Jason Curtis| Alicia Labana | Saint Francis High School of Mountain View, a
    domestic nonprofit corporation, California
  • Counsel for Defendants: Paul E. Gaspari | Kevin Lester Vick | Conrad Davis

 Verdict Information

  • Verdict Date: May 6, 2024
  • Total Damages awarded to Plaintiff(s): 1,071,306.51
    • Aaron Hartley: $542,074.51
    • Holden Hughes: $529,232

About the Case 


In 2017, when students A.H. and H.H. were just 14-year-old freshmen at St. Francis High School (SFHS), they took a seemingly innocent photo – applying green acne face masks and snapping a silly picture with friends amid the high school discipline environment. The boys claim they had no racist intentions and were simply bonding over a shared struggle with acne. However, this youthful moment came back to haunt them three years later in a devastating student defamation case.

In June 2020, amid the nationwide racial reckoning after George Floyd’s killing, an offensive racist meme mocking Floyd circulated from an Instagram account tied to SFHS graduates. Around this time, the years-old green face mask photo of A.H. and H.H. resurfaced and was deliberately mischaracterized as the students engaging in racist “blackface” behavior, sparking a blackface accusation.

Despite A.H., H.H., and their families clearly explaining the complete lack of any racist motivation behind the 2017 photo, SFHS immediately condemned the students. This occurred in the high school discipline controversy. The school demanded the boys involuntarily withdraw from SFHS, threatening them with expulsion if they refused. According to the complaint in the St. Francis High School lawsuit, this ultimatum was issued in a shockingly hasty manner. It occurred less than four hours after parents were first contacted about the photo.

The lawsuit alleges that A.H. and H.H. were denied their contractual rights under SFHS policies. They allege that the school deprived them of any meaningful due process or ability to challenge the disciplinary action. Although school policies required matters to be reviewed by a disciplinary board and allowed for appeals, the plaintiffs claim that the school completely bypassed these procedures. They claim they were given no real opportunity to be heard or present evidence refuting the “blackface” narrative assigned to their years-old actions.


As a result of SFHS and the individual defendants’ actions, A.H. and H.H. suffered immense and wide-ranging damages according to the complaint in the student defamation case. On an emotional level, the public shaming, hateful messages, threats of violence, and complete alienation from their community left deep psychological scars amid the blackface accusation and high school discipline controversy.Both students sought therapy and counseling to cope with the trauma. Their once-bright high school experiences were tarnished and replaced with constant anxiety, despair, and fears.. They wondered whether this stain on their reputations would follow them forever.

The damages went far beyond just emotional turmoil. The lawsuit alleges that A.H. and H.H. were forced to make major life upheavals. This was simply to continue their education in a safe environment away from the toxic situation at SFHS amid the cause of action. H.H., who was a talented high school athlete with aspirations of earning a sports scholarship, had to move out of state with his parents so he could complete his final year somewhere his academic and athletic career would not be jeopardized by SFHS’s actions in the St. Francis High School lawsuit. This not only separated H.H. from his family during a critical juncture, but also imposed significant relocation costs on his parents. Similarly, A.H.’s parents felt compelled to move households over three hours away to allow him to finish his degree via remote learning, incurring additional expenses due to the blackface accusation.



The litigation asserts causes of action including breach of contract against SFHS, defamation against Curtis and Labana, violation of the students’ common law rights to fair procedure, and violation of California’s Leonard’s Law prohibiting disciplining students over off-campus free speech. The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages exceeding $20 million for economic losses and emotional distress. They also seek punitive damages for the bad faith conduct. Additionally, they request injunctive relief and a judicial declaration clearing their names in the St. Francis High School lawsuit. This high-stakes case sheds light on the consequences of rigid narratives and knee-jerk overreactions. Instead of a measured examination of facts, these reactions led to innocent students having their lives ruined. It was based on mischaracterizations of behavior amid the blackface accusation and high school discipline controversy.

Jury Verdict

A jury of 12  has carefully considered the damages incurred by both Holden Hughes and Aaron Hartley.  Holden Hughes incurred past economic losses due to his move to Utah for his senior year. These losses encompass moving expenses, travel expenses, and living expenses. The total sum amounted to $42,074.51. Additionally, the jury recognized the emotional distress suffered by Hughes and awarded him $500,000 in damages. Thus, the jury granted Holden Hughes a total of $542,074.51 in compensation.

Similarly, Aaron Hartley’s damages were meticulously assessed. Three years of tuition paid to Saint Francis High School totaled $29,232. Emotional distress damages resulting from his expulsion or prohibition from attending amounted to $500,000. As a result, the jury awarded Aaron Hartley a total of $529,232 in damages. The jury rightfully affirmed that the procedures of St. Francis High School were unjust. They also affirmed that the school must abide by the law like everyone else.

 Court Documents: Available on Request

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