New lawsuit motion claims school administration knew about principal’s alleged misconduct

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 7:00pm

PORTLAND — An amended complaint filed in the lawsuit against Regional School 40, by a former student who claimed she was sexually harassed by a former principal, provides new details alleging that police and two assistant principals were also aware of the man’s behavior.

The amended complaint and demand for a jury trial was filed March 27 in the U.S. District Court in Portland.

Besides the school district, the lawsuit also names former principal Andrew Cavanaugh, and high school social worker, Chuck Nguyen.

The most recent complaint states that then Waldoboro Police Officer Christopher Spear stopped the former student for speeding in September 2017. Spear was also serving as the resource officer at Medomak Valley High School.

According to the lawsuit, Spear then notified MVHS Assistant Principal Tamra Philbrook that he was concerned about the student driving a vehicle registered to Cavanaugh.

Philbrook advised Spear that both she and another assistant principal, Linda Pease, had spoken with Cavanaugh about his inappropriate behavior toward the student during the previous school year, the lawsuit further states.

Spear sent an email with a heading of “pervert principal” to the Waldoboro Police Chief, William Labombarde. The officer stated that Cavanaugh “was exercising extremely poor judgment with his relationship” with the former student, according to the complaint.

Spear also relayed his conversation with Philbrook and noted that he saw the woman leave Cavanaugh’s office more than any other student, the suit said. The officer shared the email with Philbrook.

The police chief advised Spear to keep a record of Cavanaugh’s behavior, according to the lawsuit.

The school district put Cavanaugh on leave pending the results of the police investigation. He resigned his position as principal in December 2017.

The former student alleges in the lawsuit filed Dec. 27 that during her junior and senior years, she was subjected to daily sexual harassment and discrimination by the former principal.

The suit names the school district that includes Medomak Valley High School, former principal Andrew Cavanaugh, and social worker Chuck Nguyen as the defendants.

The attorney for Regional School Unit 40, Melissa Hewey of the Drummon Woodsum law firm in Portland, filed a motion March 11, seeking to dismiss the first two counts of the lawsuit. 

Hewey said in her motion that, “the school district’s position on behavior of this nature is clear and undisputed: it has zero tolerance for it and, as alleged in the Complaint, it has a sexual harassment policy to combat it.”

The school district claims that the woman has failed to state a claim upon which can be granted under Title IX because she has not shown that an official with the authority to implement corrective measures acted with deliberate indifference toward her.

“However, the school district can only act upon matters of which it is actually aware and her, even taking as true Plaintiff’s allegations, nobody with supervisory authority-other than Defendant Cavanaugh, whose knowledge is not relevant for purposes of determining the School District’s liability under Title IX-knew about Cavanaugh’s alleged behavior until the fall of 2017, at which point RSU 40 immediately placed Cavanaugh on leave, after which he resigned,” Hewey further states.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.

The attorney for former principal Andrew Cavanaugh, Douglas I. Louison, of Louison, Costello, Condon and Pfaff, LLP in Boston, Mass, filed a response Feb. 7, stating his client denies the claims made by the woman.

In another response filed March 11, on behalf of the high school social worker Chuck Nguyen, Attorney John Wall III states that his client denied the woman told him about her allegations against Cavanaugh.

The attorney for Cavanaugh said his client denies the allegations in the lawsuit and the “defendant acted objectively reasonably under the circumstances and, thus, is qualifiedly immune from liability.”

The defense also argues that the statue of limitations has expired so the case should be dismissed and the former student has, “failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted.”

They also contend that the injuries the woman claimed in the lawsuit, including severe emotional distress and social anxiety disorder, were caused by her own conduct and the defendant is not legally responsible.

The defense attorney for Cavanaugh is requesting a jury trial on all counts of the allegations.

The lawsuit alleges that Cavanaugh began to pay special attention to the former student when she was 16 and made sexually based comments to her about her looks and clothing in front of other students and staff members at the high school.

The former student, now 19, claims that Cavanaugh purchased personal hygiene items and gave them to her, again in front of other students and staff. She said that she reported the gifts to Nguyen and asked him whether this was normal and he assured her that there was nothing inappropriate about the gifts, according to the lawsuit.

Some of the gifts included money which Cavanaugh allegedly gave the former student directly or left with a secretary at the school.

The woman alleged that Cavanaugh began texting her on a frequent basis and between April 2017 and November 2017 there were approximately 5,000 text messages sent by the defendant. 

The comments were mainly sexually explicit and inappropriate and were sent at all hours of the day, including during school hours, and as late as 2 a.m., according to the lawsuit.

In the fall of 2017, a third party notified the Waldoboro Police Department about the alleged inappropriate relationship between Cavanaugh and the woman. The school district placed Cavanaugh on administrative leave pending the results of the police investigation and he resigned as principal in December 2017.

He had been principal at the high school since 2015.

According to the lawsuit, as a result of Cavanaugh’s actions, the woman suffered severe emotional distress including social anxiety and other disorders. 

The suit also states that the school district was negligent in their hiring, training and/or supervision of Cavanaugh and Nguyen and that the negligence was the proximate cause of the woman’s injuries. Additionally, the district had a duty, the suit said, to train and educate their employees about its sexual harassment policy and not crossing inappropriate boundaries with students and it recklessly and negligently failed to implement and enforce these policies.

The woman is represented by attorneys Rachel Deschuytner, of Portland and Eric LeBlanc, of Cambridge, Mass. They have requested a jury trial on every claim in the lawsuit.

The defendants are represented by Attorney Melissa Hewey, of Drummond Woodsum in Portland. Hewey could not immediately be reached for comment.

Related stories:

https://www.penbaypilot.com/article/rsu-40-ask-judge-dismiss-sexual-harassment-lawsuit/131629

https://www.penbaypilot.com/article/former-medomak-valley-high-school-principal-denies-sexual-harassment-allegations-form/130309

https://admin.penbaypilot.com/article/medomak-valley-high-school-graduate-files-suit-alleges-sexual-harassment-former-princ/128617

Sarah Shepherd can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com