Is a School District Liable for A Teacher Having Sex with A student?
Plaintiffs, a student and her parents, filed suit against defendant school district, seeking damages for injury sustained as a result of several years of a district teacher‘s molestation of the student. After a jury trial, the Superior Court of Orange County (California) entered judgment awarding damages to plaintiffs. (Case: Steven F. v. Anaheim Union High School Dist., 112 Cal. App. 4th 904)
When the student‘s parents discovered that the student, who had just completed her junior year in high school, had been engaged in a sexual relationship with a district teacher for over a year and that molestation occurred before that, the parents sought damages for their resulting emotional distress. On appeal, the court reversed the jury verdict awarding damages to the parents. The court held that the school district could not be held vicariously liable for the teacher‘s sexual misbehavior with the student absent evidence of its own direct negligence in hiring and supervising the teacher. There was no evidence of such negligence in the instant case. The teacher‘s close relationship with the student was a secret to all except the two and was only discovered when the mother found letters in the student‘s closet. The district had no knowledge of prior incidents that would have prompted greater scrutiny to the teacher‘s behavior, and the teacher and student‘s public interactions were ambiguous. Even assuming such negligence, the parents could not recover because their emotional distress was only a consequence of the student‘s sexual relationship and was not concomitant to it.
In Los Angeles County, defendant teacher was arrested under Cal. Penal Code § 647 of soliciting anyone to engage in or engagement in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view. Charges were never brought. Based on the arrest and defendant’s conduct leading to the arrest, plaintiff school board sought to dismiss defendant under Cal. Educ. Code § 13403(a), (e). The superior court ruled in favor of defendant, reinstating him with backpay. The court affirmed, noting that the charge of immoral or unprofessional conduct, § 13403(a), previously had been deemed unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Under the remaining charge of unfitness for service, § 13403(e), substantial evidence supported the finding that defendant was not unfit to teach. Defendant’s education, training, experience, and evaluations indicated competence. Psychological evidence supported the conclusion that defendant would not harm students or teachers. Defendant was not convicted of a sex offense which would preclude a hearing under Cal. Educ. Code § 12910.