California $100M verdict in Middle School sexual abuse lawsuit. A San Jose jury awarded $102.5M to two women, finding that they were repeatedly assaulted by their middle school music teacher over a period of years and that the Union School District failed to intervene in the abuse.
The result was reached on March 30th after the conclusion of a civil trial against Union School District which includes Dartmouth Middle School, where the teacher was employed, and where the assaults took place between 2009 and 2017.
Multiple Complaints of Inappropriate Behavior and the School Did Nothing
The rapist Samuel Niepp, 39, not only held his position after multiple complaints and incidents involving inappropriate contact with female students, he was tenured and given an award for “teacher of the year.”
The lawsuit filed by the two women, identified as Jane Doe 1 and 2, accused the school district of prioritizing the reputation of its school band over protecting its students against a teacher who had demonstrated predatory behavior.
Twice Niepp had been reported to the district for sending inappropriate text messages to female students by two 13-year-old girls, one in 2010 and one in 2013. The parents of the second girl took this incident to the principal and other administrators of the school, and the school gave Niepp tenure and an award instead of investigating the allegations.
Sexual Predatory Campaign of Grooming
Niepp began his assault of the two Jane Doe plaintiffs much in the same way, targeting them with a campaign of “grooming,” or building an illusion of trust and of a confidential relationship for the purpose of future assaults.
Niepp sent text messages, emails, and spent increasing time alone with the two victims in his office or the band room, which eventually escalated to sexual remarks, holding hands, kissing, and touching the students.
One of the lawyers of Jane Doe alleged that Niepp had a surveillance camera set up outside of the band classroom and his office so that he could monitor whether anyone was coming when he was alone with the girls.
Teacher Sentenced to 52 Years in Prison Still Has Defenders
Niepp was arrested in 2017 when he threatened to post “revenge porn” of one of the victims and was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and sexual abuse as well as possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to 52 years in prison.
Multiple retired school and district employees continued to praise Niepp even after his arrest, showing that even a proven child rapist can still be seen in our society as a “good guy” because of his public persona.
In this case, these people praised his tenure as a music teacher at the Dartmouth Middle School, dismissed the multiple red flags of predatory behavior, and even attended the closing arguments in this case to support the school district’s defense.
$102M Award breakdown
Jane Doe 1 was represented by attorney Lauren Cerri and received an award of $65M. She endured Niepp’s repeated assaults which occurred from 2013 to 2017 when she was between the ages of 13 and 16.
Jane Doe 2 was represented by attorney Natalie Weatherford and received an award of $37.5M. She was abused between 2009 to 2011 when she was 13 to 15 years old.
“These women are the true heroes in this story,” said attorney Lauren Cerri. “This verdict proves that members of our community will not tolerate school districts that put the image and reputation of the school over the safety of children from sexual abuse.”
School District Liable Because They “Knew or Should Have Known” About Sexual Assault
The key issue here is that the school district was found responsible for the women’s assaults when they were students at Dartmouth Middle School because they knew or should have known that Niepp was a likely predator.
The report from the parents about Niepp’s text and numerous other complaints from parents and students were enough to alert the school district to look more closely at Niepp, especially considering the devastating harm of child sexual abuse.
However, their unwillingness to investigate and insistence on praising Niepp despite concerning behavior shows that they were far more interested in his contributions as a music teacher than they were with student safety.
This is time and time again the shield that we see around predators in positions of power or prestige – whether at work, school, or at church. The willingness to “cast a blind eye” at a man because of his professional contributions or “public face” is a huge problem that’s existed for centuries in our society – but we’re starting to see a sea change in the way that the law handles this.
The spate of recent lawsuits against organizations that protect and enable predators in the wake of #MeToo is tearing down the walls of silence that allowed them to hurt the vulnerable previously. Now juries and judges will enforce civil lawsuits against such organizations for their negligence and responsibility in allowing these horrible assaults and abuse to happen.
Our Law Firm Can Help You Seek Recovery in Sexual Assault or Child Sexual Abuse Cases
If you or a loved one have experienced sexual assault or sexual abuse in an organization that allowed this to happen to you by failing to create a safe environment – whether a church, school, university, or workplace – you may be able to sue for justice and recovery.
Sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment are all extremely emotional and traumatic physical events and you can feel shame and guilt after what happened to you – but it’s not your fault. You can file your claim anonymously as the women did here in this case and take this chance to get justice against those responsible – and maybe help make the world safer for women and children everywhere.
Contact Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm to receive a free consultation from an experienced attorney. There are no upfront costs: the cost of representation will only apply in the case of recovery, or winning your case.
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