Teacher sues CA school regarding sexual harassment by students

Posted in Sexual Harassment on May 29, 2014

Protection from sexual harassment in the workplace is not limited to just interactions between co-workers or between supervisors and subordinates. It is an employer’s legal duty to protect employees from any sexual harassment they may experience throughout the work day.

In a restaurant or retail store, for instance, the staff may be sexually harassed by customers. It is up to management to respond to such complaints and protect their workers from those customers. And as one case demonstrates, school administrators have a duty to protect teachers and other staff from sexual harassment perpetrated by students.

The California school at the center of this scandal is Serra High, the prestigious Catholic school in San Mateo. The school has only male students, and of the 64 teachers who work there, only about one-third are women. One of the 21 women recently sued the school for repeatedly failing to respond to an apparent culture of sexual harassment against female teachers.

Perhaps the most disturbing allegation is an informal contest in which students competed to get the best “up-skirt” videos of female instructors. The 38-year-old teacher who brought the lawsuit says she was also the subject of bathroom graffiti, sexually explicit tweets and other offensive materials. Additionally, she alleges, school administrators failed to protect her and other female teachers from these embarrassing and harassing acts and instead seemed to embrace a “boys will be boys” attitude.

Commenting on the case, the plaintiff’s attorney explained that “even though they are a private all-boys school, even though they are run by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, they are like any other employer and have an obligation to protect their employees from sexual harassment. Once it happens they have a legal obligation to investigate, to understand the full scope and then to fix it.”

In a case like this, administrators who fail to take corrective action are not just letting their teachers down. They are also sending a message to their students that sexual harassment is ok. Some of these teenage boys could continue to harass women well into adulthood when they enter the workforce. If and when that happens, it is far less likely that a “boys will be boys” culture will be tolerated.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, “Serra High lawsuit: Catholic school boys competed for up-skirt photos of female teachers,” Matthias Gafni, May 15, 2014