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California Supreme Court upholds sex abuse suits against school districts

Ruling in a Santa Clarita case, it says students may sue districts for alleged sexual abuse by school employees if administrators ignore warning signs or fail to monitor the workers.

March 09, 2012|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • School principals and other supervisors "have the responsibility of taking reasonable measures to guard pupils against harassment and abuse from foreseeable sources," Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, above, wrote for the court.
School principals and other supervisors "have the responsibility… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Students who are sexually abused by school employees may sue public districts if their administrators ignored warning signs or failed to monitor the employees, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday.

The state high court's ruling revived a lawsuit against the William S. Hart Union High School District by a student who alleged that a counselor repeatedly abused him sexually.

The suit said that school administrators knew or should have known that the counselor, Roselyn Hubbell, had a propensity for sexual abuse when they hired her at Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita.

Hubbell, whom the district fired, eventually was arrested at a motel with another boy and charged with a misdemeanor.

School principals and other supervisors "have the responsibility of taking reasonable measures to guard pupils against harassment and abuse from foreseeable sources, including any teachers or counselors they know or have reason to know are prone to such abuse," Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court.

Stuart Esner, a lawyer for the student, said the ruling "will allow compensation for people who are harmed and maybe have the side effect of increasing vigilance."

But Robert A. Olson, an attorney for the district, denied the suit's charges and expressed concern that the ruling would entangle individual administrators in litigation, regardless of whether allegations were true.

"This expanded vulnerability to litigation will inevitably affect those individuals' as well as the district's and all California educators' ability to provide quality education to their students," Olson said.

The ruling noted that any monetary damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress would have to be apportioned according to fault, and "the greater share of fault will ordinarily lie with the individual who intentionally abused or harassed the student."

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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