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Berkeley High harassment case heading to settlement

Berkeley High School. Photo: Lance Knobel

The long-running case concerning alleged sexual harassment by Berkeley High counselor Anthony Smith came to Federal Court today in San Francisco and now looks likely to be settled by the school district.

Judge Maria-Elena James considered the Berkeley Unified School District’s motion to dismiss the federal suit against Smith, the district and Superintendent Bill Huyett (the full text of the suit is here). The judge denied the motion to dismiss three state law claims in the suit and dismissed a claim of negligence without prejudice, providing an opening for the plaintiff to refile with a more specific complaint of negligence.

Berkeleyside broke the news that Smith had been accused of sexually harassing a junior at BHS in April 2010. In September 2010, at the beginning of the student’s senior year, a temporary restraining order was granted ordering Smith to stay at least 100 yards away from the student. An out-of-court settlement was reached on the restraining order in October, when Smith agreed to stay at least 50 yards from the student. The federal case considered today seeking unspecified damages was filed in April this year.

“I think this case will settle pretty quickly,” said Michael Sorgen, attorney for the plaintiff, Lilah R (a fictitious name to protect the student’s identity). Sorgen said the judge will schedule a case management conference in the next two weeks, and the usual procedure is to allow for 90 days for mediation after that conference.


Sorgen said that Lilah R “spent her whole senior year fretting” because of the BUSD’s decision not to move Smith away from the school.

One person involved in the case has suggested the BUSD has spent over $125,000 defending the case from inception. A BUSD spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

“If they end up paying damages as well as substantial legal fees, it’s pretty much the only way they are going to learn to handle it differently next time,” said Sorgen.

Related:

Restraining order served on Berkeley High counsellor 09.16.10
BUSD decision appealed in BHS harassment case 09.21.10
BHS harassment case settles, leaves open questions 10.29.10
Government to assess Berkeley High harassment case 12.07.10
BHS sexual harassment case taken to federal court 04.22.11