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Student Sues Over Alleged Harassment

Teenager says a Newbury Park High coach called him anti-Jewish names for over a year and that the school district didn't do enough to stop the abuse.

June 24, 2004|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

A Jewish student at Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks contends in a lawsuit that an athletic coach verbally abused him with anti-Semitic slurs for more than a year while district officials did little to stop him.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles alleges that John Marsden, a walk-on football and baseball coach at the high school, harassed Samuel Goldstein, now 16, because he was Jewish and that officials with the Conejo Valley Unified School District allowed his teammates to do the same. The lawsuit filed last month seeks a stop to the alleged harassment and unspecified damages.

Supt. Robert Fraisse said Wednesday he could not comment on the pending litigation, but confirmed that Marsden no longer works for the district. Marsden was not a regular, full-time employee but received a $1,000 annual stipend to coach, Fraisse said.

Marsden could not be reached for comment.

Goldstein's parents, Howard and Lori Goldstein, said the events of the last year have taken such an emotional toll on their family that they recently sold their home and planned to move out of the district to give their son and his 15-year-old brother, Mitch, a fresh start at a different public high school.

The family alleges the mistreatment began in fall 2002 when Goldstein was in the ninth grade and several of his football teammates made him the butt of anti-Jewish jokes, which were overheard by coaches.

At a birthday party in January 2003, his football and baseball teammates pressed him against a fence in a game they called "concentration camp" and told him "how, unlike a pizza, Jews scream when placed in an oven," the lawsuit states. Afterward in the school locker room, Goldstein was called degrading and obscene names by his teammates, the family said.

Lori Goldstein said she told Assistant Principal Steven Lepire about the alleged birthday party incident and the comments made to her son during football season. The school district "and its personnel took no action," the lawsuit states.

About two months later, Marsden called Goldstein a "Neanderthal," yelled obscenities at him in front of his teammates and said "God didn't like him because he was a Jew," according to the suit.

Later, Lori Goldstein met with Marsden, who denied doing anything wrong, she said.

"Shortly after this meeting, Marsden retaliated against Sam by benching him for most of the remaining baseball season, despite the fact Sam was the leadoff hitter and first-string outfielder. Marsden then proceeded to tease Sam in front of his peers because Sam's mother came to speak to him," the lawsuit states.

During the 2003 spring baseball season, Goldstein and the one other Jewish player on the team were criticized by Marsden for missing practice because of Passover. Marsden allegedly said, "Next year I won't have to worry about boys missing practices as I'll cut all the Jewish players from the team ... and the Russian kids, too."

The family said Lepire conducted an investigation in May 2003 and told Lori Goldstein that Marsden had been disciplined and would not cause any more problems. Goldstein said her son had no alternative but to play on the summer baseball team coached by Marsden.

"I was assured he had been disciplined and that I would have no further problems, but in fact, I did," Lori Goldstein said in an interview Wednesday. The Goldsteins' attorney, Wayne Flick, said they have compiled documents and photographs proving their allegations.

Despite assurances from school administrators, Marsden continued to "berate Sam with childish and cruel remarks, including jokes about the Ku Klux Klan and gays," during the summer season, the lawsuit states. The family said Marsden incited Goldstein's teammates to alienate the teenager and threatened him with physical violence.

When the youth reported the incidents to Lepire, the assistant principal allegedly told him he was being too sensitive.

The lawsuit contends that Marsden was suspended from the school district in September 2003, but continued to attend school events and told parents, students and coaches from other schools that the Goldsteins were responsible for his removal. When Goldstein and his mother attended football games, they were verbally attacked by parents and students for causing Marsden's departure, according to the lawsuit.

That same month, the lawsuit states, a varsity football player threatened to kill Goldstein because of his role in Marsden's removal. The family said district officials took no action against the teenager and allowed him to play in the next game.

By February 2004, the situation had grown so bad that Goldstein was forced to quit the baseball team, and his preparations for the football season were stalled because of harassment from other players, the family said. In addition, the family said, Goldstein's academic performance had declined and he sought counseling to help cope with the trauma of the last year.

"Marsden created an environment in which those kids looked up to him, and they came to believe that this sort of behavior was acceptable and permitted," Lori Goldstein said. "After nine months of complaining, they did ask him to leave. But shortly after that, my son was forced off the baseball team because the harassment from the other kids was so bad."

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