Education

Cosumnes River College student sues over unexpected kiss

Cosumnes River College student Iris Perez says she was unexpectedly kissed by her crisis counselor during a counseling session at the school in January. Now she is suing.

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento Superior Court last week, accuses former counselor Hoyt Fong, the Los Rios Community College District and the Los Rios Federation of Teachers of conspiring to cover up the incident. It also accuses Fong and the college district of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, gender violence and assault.

Perez, 19, is seeking unspecified damages.

The suit stems from a Jan. 2 counseling session that ended with a hug, which had become a tradition, Perez told The Bee in March. But then Fong unexpectedly kissed her, she said. According to Perez, Fong scheduled her next appointment and hugged her again.

“It was a shock,” Perez said. “I didn’t know how to react. I was frozen. I tried to brush it off, just to get out as fast as I could. ... When I was getting into my car it all hit me at once and then that’s when I started crying. It was unbelievable.”

Fong did not return a call Monday requesting comment for this story. He worked for the district for more than 40 years before resigning on Jan. 11 after refusing to participate in an investigation of the incident, according to a report from the Los Rios district.

Perez started going to Fong for crisis counseling after experiencing an emotional crisis in the fall of 2017, according to the lawsuit. She had appointments with Fong every two weeks until early January.

Perez said that she reported the kiss to school administrators and filed a complaint with the district, but then was pressured to withdraw the complaint.

She did not withdraw the complaint and the district investigated. On Jan. 18 it concluded that her allegation of gender discrimination was valid.

“The biggest issue is that Los Rios has a history of sweeping these allegations under the rug and that they need to make some systematic changes,” said Kresta Daley, an attorney representing Perez in the case. “That is Ms. Perez’s goal - to make changes at the district.”

The lawsuit alleges that the community college district and its teachers union has minimized, excused and ignored complaints about sexual misconduct to minimize liability. That includes a list of complaints about Fong that go back at least 10 years, Daley said.

“While the district won’t comment specifically on the lawsuit involving a former employee, we remain committed to ensuring that our colleges are safe places to study and work, and have taken steps in the past year to help reinforce a culture of support and accountability at our campuses,” said Gabe Ross, associate vice chancellor of communications at Los Rios.

Cosumnes River College President Edward Bush responded to the issue in March by commending Perez for her bravery in an open letter. He encouraged victims of sexual harassment and assault to share their stories.

In February, the district announced it would expand mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for employees and offer training for students. The district also has added more human resources employees to investigate allegations.

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