Student sues her counselor

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Zully Juarez/Staff


Lilah v. Anthony Smith, Superintendent Bill Huyett and the Berkeley Unified School District »

Read the lawsuit filed April 18


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A 17-year-old female Berkeley High School student is suing the Berkeley Unified School District in federal court for allegedly failing to take appropriate action against her school counselor, who she claims sexually harassed her in 2009 and 2010.

The high school senior, given the fictitious name Lilah R. in the lawsuit to protect her identity, claims district administrators did not adequately respond to her assertions that her academic counselor Anthony Smith, who is still employed at the school, had acted inappropriately toward her over the course of four months.

The lawsuit was filed last Monday at the Northern District of the United States District Court in San Francisco. It names Smith, district superintendent Bill Huyett and the district itself as defendants.

"She's obviously not doing this for her own protection," said Lilah's attorney, Michael Sorgen. "She graduates in a month, but this issue concerns the entire school of students who will be there next year. They have no one to protect their safety, health and welfare."

On April 29, 2010, Lilah submitted a written statement to the district that accused Smith of engaging in unwelcome sexual behavior with her starting in November 2009. Among her claims were that Smith, on one or more occasions, caressed her thighs, spanked her on her buttocks, put his face in her chest and asked her if she slept naked.

She also claims Smith frequently pulled her out of class to talk about matters unrelated to her education, such as her plans for holiday breaks.

The district investigated the claim and informed Lilah over the summer that it would "be taking appropriate personnel action" against Smith.

According to a district letter sent to Lilah's parents in early September, Smith was given "a directive" to avoid any physical or verbal contact with Lilah and to remain near his office while on campus. However, the district said in the letter that Smith would be retained at the school because of a collective bargaining agreement with Berkeley's teachers' union that restricted the district's ability to transfer teachers.

Lilah's parents obtained a restraining order for their daughter against the counselor in September 2010, and high school administrators reassigned her to another counselor who works on a floor above Smith. According to the lawsuit, Lilah still felt frightened that she might run into Smith at school.

Sorgen said the first meeting of all involved parties has been scheduled for July 28. If they do not come to an agreement outside of court, he said a trial will likely be scheduled sometime during the summer of 2012.

"Parents have a right to know that their students will be protected," Sorgen said. "Right now, they don't know that."

District spokesperson Mark Coplan declined to comment, saying the district never comments on matters currently in litigation.

Tags: BERKELEY HIGH SCHOOL, BERKELEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT


Jeffrey Butterfield is the lead local schools reporter.



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