Bay Area teacher sues school due to student sexual harassment

Posted in Sexual Harassment on September 24, 2014

We have previously written that employers have a duty to protect their workers from sexual harassment, regardless of whether the harassment is perpetrated by fellow employees or non-employees that workers must interact with. In the restaurant and retail industries, customers would be an example of non-employee third parties.

In the teaching profession, it would be students. According to a recent news article, a former teacher at a Catholic high school in the San Francisco Bay Area may be able to hold the school and the Archdiocese of San Francisco Parish liable for emotional distress for failing to adequately investigate and respond to known incidents of sexual harassment perpetrated by students.

In a nutshell, students at an all-male Catholic school in San Mateo County had engaged in a contest over a period of several years to obtain “up-skirt” photos and videos of female teachers. The contest was not at all sanctioned by the school, but school officials were apparently aware that it had been going on.

Rather than investigating or reporting students to police, however, school officials allegedly deleted photos from students’ phones when particular students were caught. The plaintiff was informed by school officials in May 2013 that students had taken up-skirt photos of her. She says that school administrators only agreed to call police after she said she was going to file a police report.

Since that time, the plaintiff has been on a leave of absence from the school. She is now seeking to hold both the school and the diocese legally liable.

If these allegations are true, school officials have failed their own students. The tepid response to this completely inappropriate behavior is essentially tacit approval, which means that high-school-aged boys are receiving the message that sexual harassment is okay. What happens when they repeat this behavior in the workplace? Or when they get arrested for this behavior as adults?

It should go without saying that school officials also failed female teachers. No one deserves to work in an environment where their privacy and personal boundaries are not respected and violations of those boundaries are not addressed.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Up-Skirt Teacher Photos May Cost Catholic School,” Mike Heuer, Sept. 9, 2014