The California Supreme Court ruled in San Francisco today that a former Southern California high school student can sue his school district for negligence in hiring a guidance counselor who allegedly sexually abused him.
The high court ruled unanimously that the youth identified as C.A. can go ahead with a lawsuit against the William S. Hart Union High School District in Los Angeles County in connection with alleged sexual abuse and harassment by counselor Roselyn Hubbell.
The youth claims in his civil lawsuit that Hubbell used her position of authority and trust to force him to engage in sexual activities ranging from massages to intercourse for an eight-month period in 2007.
C.A. was 14 and 15 years old at the time and Hubbell was in her early 30s. The locations of the abuse allegedly included the boy’s high school in Santa Clarita, shopping malls and Hubbell’s car.
The lawsuit claims district officials knew or should have known Hubbell had an alleged previous history of molestation and were negligent in hiring and supervising her.
The court, in a ruling written by Justice Kathryn Werdegar, said the youth was entitled to a trial on the suit because school districts have a special duty of care toward students.
The relationship arises from “the mandatory character of school attendance and the comprehensive control over students exercised by school personnel,” Werdegar wrote.
“The duty of care owed by school personnel includes the duty to use reasonable measures to protect students from foreseeable injury at the hands of third parties acting negligently or intentionally,” Werdegar wrote.
The court emphasized that in order to win such a lawsuit, a student would have to provide concrete evidence that district officials had reason to know that an employee posed a risk to students.
Whether the school was in fact negligent would be determined by a jury at a future trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The state Supreme Court overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that dismissed the lawsuit.
Hubbell was forced to resign from her counseling job and was convicted of misdemeanor molestation of a different underage youth and required to register as a sex offender.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News