Sacramento City Unified settles lawsuit stemming from student’s gang-rape allegation

Sacramento City Unified School District agreed this week to pay $400,000 to settle a high-profile lawsuit related to a former C.K. McClatchy High School student’s rape allegations.

The plaintiff will receive at total of $250,000. Her lawyers receive the remaining $149,000.

The school’s handling of the student’s allegations detailed in a Sacramento Bee story in 2018 resulted in hundreds of McClatchy High students walking out of class in protest. The students demanded that the district change how it deals with sexual harassment and assault reports.

The former McClatchy High School student, then 17, was suspended for the semester after a fellow student told school officials she was drugged and gang-raped by two of her classmates at an off-campus party in 2016 while she was unconscious, according to a claim the student filed against the school district seeking damages. The two suspects were not disciplined and were allowed to remain on campus, according to the claim, which was rejected for procedural reasons, The Bee reported.

The Bee is not identifying the student, now a 19-year-old graduate, because she is the survivor of an alleged sexual assault.

In March 2018, the civil rights organization Equal Rights Advocates and Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP filed a lawsuit alleging that the student’s civil rights were violated. The suit claimed that the district failed to investigate the rape and did not stop the bullying and harassment the young woman suffered after she returned to school.

The student and her legal team “couldn’t and can’t erase what happened to her at the hands of her classmates, or how she was treated by her school day-in and day-out for almost two years after the incident,” said Maha Ibrahim, staff attorney at Equal Rights Advocates, who represented the student for nearly three years. “But she chose to fight to make sure this didn’t happen to other students who came after her, to make her school a safer place.”

According to the lawsuit, school officials broke several federal and state laws, including denying the student equal access to an education, failing to inform her of her rights, denying her access to a counselor, and discouraging her from taking legal action. The lawsuit also stated that the district delegated the investigation to a Sacramento Police Department school resource officer, and said he did not have training on federal Title IX gender equity laws or the district’s policies on sexual assault.

The suit named the school district, assistant principal Matthew Schlager, Student Support Center coordinator Iyuanna Pease, counselor Megan Molina, school social worker Mirna Perez and former School Resource Officer Joe Brown.

The district admitted no liability in the settlement, which releases the defendants from any claims.

“No student should ever have to experience the pain, suffering and emotional trauma associated with sexual assault,” the district said in a statement Wednesday. “While this incident did not occur on our campus or during school hours, our district wants to be adequately prepared to identify and help any student that is suffering from emotional trauma. We will be working hard to ensure proper training and documenting procedures are in place to assist our students in their times of crisis.”

According to Equal Rights Advocates, the district has agreed to jointly draft new policies with the organization to make it easier for students to report sexual assault or sexual harassment, provide training on how to conduct an investigation, and ensure students are not retaliated against for reporting.

According to previous Bee reporting, court documents show that Brown investigated the incident after another student reported the rape to school officials three days later. He asked the girl a series of questions, including whether she was a virgin before the incident, according to court documents. A school center support person also was in the room. The officer then asked the girl and her family to leave campus for the semester. The family was told that students were talking about the incident and that the girl’s presence was distracting, according to the claim.

Brown is no longer a school resource officer at McClatchy High School.

According to court documents, the student said she was harassed and taunted by her rapists after returning to the school, receiving threatening phone calls and texts. She attempted suicide one month after the rape, and was hospitalized for depression.

Hundreds of McClatchy High School students walked out of class in protest after The Bee reported the proposed lawsuit in 2018. Five McClatchy High teachers were then told to report to the school’s office to discuss their involvement in the walkout.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board against Sacramento City Unified claiming the district falsely accused teachers of helping students organize the walk. That complaint was settled in January 2019.

Equal Rights Advocates said in a news release that the student plans to use some of the settlement award to attend nursing school. The student is a childhood cancer survivor, and her time in the hospital as a child and after her rape made her want to be a nurse, the statement said.

“I want people to know that even if nobody believes you, you need to have the strength to let other people know,” the student said in the news release. “Even if it might seem really scary and you feel like the whole world is against you, in the end, it ends up being beneficial not only for you, but for everybody else. And that’s the only way change is made.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 3, 2019, to correct the amounts of money the plaintiff and her lawyers will receive in the settlement.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.