NEW BEDFORD — A lawsuit filed in 2020 alleging that multiple staff members of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, as well as a New Bedford police officer assigned as the school resource officer there, failed to protect a former female student from sexual harassment by other students — including one male classmate who'd allegedly stolen and shared nude images of her — has been settled out of court, The Standard-Times has learned.
The suit suggests the defendants failed to address the situation appropriately because the male student who allegedly stole the nude images is the son of a New Bedford police officer.
"The parties in this case filed a notice of settlement on November 18," a spokesman for the U.S. District Court in Boston told The Standard-Times via email. "The Judge has entered a 30 day settlement order of dismissal."
The court spokesman said the amount settled for was not part of court records as the agreement was made outside of court. The plaintiff's attorney, Carmen Durso, said he could not share any information on the outcome other than that the case had been "resolved."
A document related to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 30, 2020 at U.S. District Court in Boston, says the defendants "failed to perform their public duties because of a conspiracy to protect another male student at the Regional High School, whose illegal and criminal acts were the precipitating events leading to the harassment of the plaintiff."
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The suit names then-superintendent-director of GNB Voc-Tech James O'Brien; current principal and then-vice principal Warley Williams; school adjustment counselor Jose Botelho; legal and protective services teacher Brittany Fernandez; School Resource Officer Leanne Fisher; and media and technology teacher Jennifer Gaspar as defendants; as well as five unnamed defendants identified in court documents as employees of GNB Voc-Tech at the time of the events transpired.
GNB Voc-Tech administration did not respond to emails from The Standard-Times seeking comment.
Court documents say student was further victimized, denied help
According to court documents, in 2014, when the plaintiff, identified as "Maria Doe," was 15-years-old, she "took nude pictures and a video of herself ... using her cell phone," providing them privately only to her boyfriend at the time. Then, in March 2016, a classmate — identified as "R.B." — used a school computer to steal the said photos and video while "Maria Doe" was in the bathroom and had her phone connected to that computer to charge, the document reads. "R.B." then apparently proceeded to disseminate the images to other classmates, which "Maria" learned of through rumors before being told by one classmate how the materials were stolen and who had done it, according to the document.
The document goes on to say that on April 6, 2016, "Maria" filed a written complaint with the school. "Notwithstanding her complaint, for the next several months, MARIA was subjected to severe and pervasive harassment relating to the Pictures, which substantially interfered with her education, and caused her great emotional distress," it reads.
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The document reads that after reporting the incident to O'Brien, Williams, Botelho, Fernandez, Fisher and Gaspar — otherwise referred to in the document as the "ADMINISTRATIVE DEFENDANTS" — not only did those named fail to inform "Maria" of her rights in the situation, but they "forced her to sit, alone, in what they called a 'mediation session' with R.B., and also forced her to accept his 'apology' for the theft, and the dissemination, of the Pictures."
"One of the means by which the ADMINISTRATIVE DEFENDANTS forced MARIA to take part in their sham mediation process was by threatening her with suspension and/or expulsion, and she was, in fact suspended for one day, even though she had not committed any offense," the document reads. "The only punishment which R.B. received was a one week suspension from classes, which entirely failed to deter him from continuing to sexually harass MARIA, both directly and indirectly, and through his surrogate schoolmates.
"The ADMINISTRATIVE DEFENDANTS took no other action against R.B. because his father was a New Bedford police officer.
"Each of the ADMINISTRATIVE DEFENDANTS either personally told MARIA that she could not take any action against R.B., and they knew each knew the reason why MARIA was prevented from taking any action, as was her right, was to protect R.B., because his father was a police officer."
According to the document, consequences suffered by "Maria" as result of sexual harassment from classmates included being "unable to attend many days of classes," being unable to attend prom, withdrawing from school clubs and "all forms of social contact," and hiding during lunch.
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As of the 2020 filing of the lawsuit, the document reads that the plaintiff "is informed and still believes the Pictures are still being circulated on the internet."
Another court document shows that on June 21, 2022, the court had denied the plaintiff's motion to compel her "former classmate R.B." to testify in the court after he had invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege. "R.B. argues that Doe's allegations could give rise to criminal liability under the three federal statutes criminalizing the possession and distribution of sexually explicit materials involving minors ... none of which are limited here by the relevant statutes of limitation," the document reads.
This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: GNB Voc-Tech settles 2020 lawsuit over leaked nude photos, harassment