Legal Trends Spotlights Sexual Abuse Settlement, New Sexual Assault Lawsuit and Employment Law Developments.
In this issue of Legal Trends, we discuss a recent sexual abuse settlement by The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander and a new sexual abuse lawsuit filed against a special needs school. We also analyze an emerging trend of employer liability when employers fail to protect their employees.
Hollander Law Offices Settles Third Sexual Abuse Claim Against The Jesuits.
An individual in his late 50’s, a victim of alleged childhood sexual abuse by Father Donald O’Shaughnessy, settled his claim with the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus, (“the Jesuits”), for $925,000. The settlement took place during a voluntary mediation conference before a lawsuit was filed. The victim claimed that he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Father O’Shaughnessy while attending Loyola Academy.
The man claimed to have suppressed the memories of abuse during his childhood until he saw the movie, Spotlight. At that time, the man began to remember the incidents of abuse. The
man claimed that he had difficulty maintaining steady employment for many years, according to his attorney, Eugene K. Hollander. Hollander said, “every aspect of my client’s life has been affected. My client’s childhood was stolen.” Hollander also noted that “while it has been a difficult journey, my client refused to suffer in silence.” The man hopes that other victims of sexual abuse will begin the healing process by confronting their past. Hollander said that his client is hopeful, and with the proceeds of the settlement, he will begin to put his life back together.
This is the third victim whom Hollander has represented who has claimed sexual abuse at the hands of O’Shaughnessy. The first victim, Bill Reidy, settled his claim with the Jesuits in 2013 for $750,000. The second victim settled his claim with the Jesuits in 2015 for $950,000.
Hollander Law Offices Files Suit Against Special Needs School for Sexual Assault.
A young woman with severe cognitive deficits who was enrolled in a south suburban public school district program for students with disabilities was sexually assaulted by a male student in the bathroom of the school on two occasions during the summer of 2016. According to the lawsuit filed in late May, 2017, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, the incidents occurred despite the fact that the school maintained a closed circuit video camera system to ensure the safety of its students.
The lawsuit, filed by the father of the victim, alleges that Homewood Flossmoor Community High School District 233 and an associated cooperative school for young adults with learning disabilities failed to protect the special needs student who suffers from severe intellectual impairment.
The victim, identified as Jane Doe in the court filing in order to protect her identity, attended the Academy for Lifelong Learning in Chicago Heights. The Academy is part of a cooperative of south suburban high school districts known as “SPEED,” formed to provide specialized instruction and services for students with disabilities.
According to the allegations, the victim was in the women’s bathroom at the school on June 27, 2016 when the male student entered the bathroom and sexually assaulted her. The victim, who was 21 years old at the time, was again allegedly assaulted by the same student while she was in the women’s bathroom nine days later on July 6, 2016. The offender, who is believed to suffer from only a behavioral disorder, was not as cognitively impaired as Hollander’s client is.
The offender who was 19 years old at the time of the assaults and is also alleged to have assaulted a second female student at the academy on July 6, 2016. The offender is facing felony charges of Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault and Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse in connection with the assaults.
In order to ensure the safety of students, the Academy maintained closed circuit video cameras throughout its premises that fed footage to a centralized control desk at the school, according to the lawsuit. The closed circuit camera system monitored the entrance to the bathrooms at the school and video captured the male offender entering the women’s bathroom after the victim had gone in on both days when the attacks allegedly occurred, according to Hollander.
“This parent had every expectation that this school would be a safe place for his disabled daughter to be educated and enriched, not sexually assaulted as she used the restroom,” said Hollander. “A lack of proactive enforcement resulted in this young woman being placed in a horrific position of weakness and vulnerability that will haunt her for years to come.”
The victim suffered severe and permanent emotional distress as a result of the assaults and will continue to require medical and psychological treatment and therapy, according to the lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.
Emerging Trend of Employer Liability for Failing to Protect Employees.
Two recent federal cases involving harm suffered to employees demonstrate that employers may be held liable for failing to protect them from others.
The first case involved an employee who worked at Costco. Dawn Suppo claimed that a customer stalked her by coming into the store repeatedly and harassing her. Suppo claimed that the customer kept looking at her and asking her about the men in her life. Suppo alleged that the man kept touching her, and when she complained to management, her managers only asked the customer to leave and did nothing more. Suppo then went to court to obtain a restraining order against the customer. When she then went on medical leave, she was terminated.
In late December, 2016, a federal jury returned a verdict in Suppo’s favor in the sum of $250,000 for compensatory damages, but declined to award punitive damages.
More recently, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that an employer could be held liable under a negligence theory for failing to protect one of its employees from a co-worker. Alisha Bromfield worked at a Home Depot. Her manager, Brian Cooper, was alleged to have had a history of sexually harassing his young female subordinates. Ultimately, Cooper turned his attention to Bromfield. Cooper allegedly texted Bromfield outside of work and pressured her to spend time with her alone.
In 2012, when Bromfield was seven months pregnant, Cooper asked her to go to his sister’s wedding. When she refused, Cooper then allegedly told her that he would fire her unless she attended. Broomfield went with Cooper to the
wedding, and after the ceremony, he took her back to the hotel room he had rented for the both of them. He then strangled Bromfield to death. Bromfield’s estate brought a negligence claim against Home Depot. The trial court dismissed the claim, but on appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Home Depot could be held responsible for its negligence, and that the wrongful death of its employee was reasonably foreseeable.