The Berkeley Wire: 12.07.11

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  • Berkeley High girl’s sex-harass suit settled

    A Berkeley High School counselor accused in a sexual-harassment
    lawsuit of asking a female student whether she slept naked must keep the
    door and blinds to his office open whenever he counsels girls, under
    the terms of a settlement in the case.

    Anthony Smith was accused in the suit of touching, stroking, hugging
    and making suggestive comments toward the female student in the 2009-10
    school year, when she was 16. The lawsuit, filed by the student’s
    mother, identifies the girl only as Lilah R., a pseudonym.

    The district must pay $57,500 to the girl as part of the settlement of the federal civil rights suit, reached last week.

    Mark Coplan, a spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District,
    said Smith remains employed at the school but declined to discuss the
    case, calling it a personnel issue.

    The lawsuit says Smith once asked Lilah, “Oh, you don’t sleep naked?” after inquiring what she wore to bed.

    Smith rubbed her back, touched her thigh, talked about her hair and
    told her she smelled good, said the suit filed in U.S. District Court in
    San Francisco.

    In September 2010, Lilah’s parents obtained a temporary restraining
    order requiring that Smith stay at least 100 yards away from her. Her
    mother sued the district after Superintendent William Huyett told her
    Smith’s conduct did not constitute sexual harassment because it was
    neither “severe” nor “pervasive,” said the suit.

    Attorneys for the district wrote in court papers that Smith denied
    the allegations and that the district had placed him on paid
    administrative leave.

    An investigation determined that some of the allegations couldn’t be
    proved, the attorneys wrote. But in some instances, Lilah was “the more
    credible witness,” and it was clear Smith “had engaged in inappropriate
    and unprofessional behavior contrary to district policy,” the attorneys

    The district imposed unspecified discipline on Smith, ordered him to
    avoid any contact with the girl and assigned her a new counselor.

    “We would have preferred to see Mr. Smith not counsel any female
    students,” said Michael Sorgen, the attorney for Lilah’s family. “But
    the district felt that was administratively unfeasible.”

    Smith’s attorney, Mark Davis, said requiring his client to leave his
    door and blinds open when counseling girls will “restrict the ability of
    many students to have private conversations with their counselor.
    However, it will hopefully protect Mr. Smith from being subjected to
    false allegations in the future.”

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