The Berkeley School Board last night voted to approve a settlement in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against the Berkeley Unified School District, which includes compensation of $57,500 and conditions imposed on Anthony Smith, the Berkeley High counselor at the center of the case. BUSD has also committed to revising its training and policies on sexual harassment as part of the settlement. BUSD denies any liability in this case.
Lilah R. (the fictitious name under which she sued) was a 16-year-old junior at Berkeley High in the 2009-2010 school year when she, she said, she was subjected to persistent and pervasive conduct of a sexual nature by Smith, her academic counselor.
Lilah R. reported that Smith caressed her inner thigh and made unwelcome comments, such as he wanted to “share feelings” with her, asked her if she slept naked, and asked to work out together. Although Smith denied the charges in Lilah R.’s complaint, an initial BUSD investigation found that Lilah R. was the more credible witness and that Smith’s conduct was “inappropriate and unprofessional.” Lilah R. sued after BUSD rejected the family’s suggestion to remove Smith from the high school campus.
Lilah R., who is now 18, said: “Students should feel safe when they go to school. I’m happy the school district is making changes that should help other girls like me.”
The district will update its Student Handbook to include specific contact information for students who wish to report sexual harassment. The Berkeley High PTSA will be asked to convey to parents the resources available to them and their child should a complaint arise. And an advisory committee of parents and District staff will meet to clarify BUSD’s sexual harassment policy and its procedural timeline.
Commenting on the settlement announcement, BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett said: “Our district is always proactive in seeking ways to enhance the educational experience of our students and their families. We welcome input from all our community as we work together in that effort.”
The settlement states that in future, when he counsels students, Smith will be required to keep his office door open and blinds up, except under certain limited circumstances, and will be barred from pulling students out of class without an administrator’s permission.
Lilah R.’s mother said in a statement: “We’ve always been big supporters of the Berkeley public schools and are hopeful that with this settlement the school district will recommit itself to working hard to provide a safe environment for all our children.”
Berkeley High harassment case close to settling [12.08.11]
Berkeley High harassment case heading to settlement [07.21.11]
BHS sexual harassment case taken to federal court [04.22.11]
Government to assess Berkeley High harassment case [12.07.10]
BHS harassment case settles, leaves open questions [10.29.10]
BUSD decision appealed in BHS harassment case [09.21.10]
Restraining order served on Berkeley High counselor [09.16.10]