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Minnesota Department of Human Rights Reaches Agreement with Ramsey County and Sues West Lutheran High School for Permitting Sexual Assault and Harassment

8/1/2019 3:00:00 PM

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) announced one settlement agreement and one lawsuit today in two cases as part of the Department’s ongoing commitment to ensure Minnesotans can live full lives, free from sexual assault and harassment. Today’s announcement involves a settlement agreement with Ramsey County and a lawsuit against West Lutheran High School. Both cases involve sexual assault and harassment of minors, and individuals who failed to act in their positions of authority.

“Sexual assault is pervasive in our culture,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. “These two cases together demonstrate how it occurs everywhere. Living a life free of sexual assault and harassment is every Minnesotan’s civil right. Announcing these two cases today demonstrates the Department’s commitment to building a world where everyone can lead lives full of dignity, free from sexual assault and harassment.”

The Ramsey County settlement agreement pertains to a case involving a then 16-year-old seasonal lifeguard. During the summer of 2013, most of the beaches were closed when her supervisor scheduled her to work with him. The supervisor sexually assaulted her at the closed beach. He then drove her in a county vehicle to purchase Plan B emergency contraceptive.

The lifeguard reported the sexual assault to two other supervisors and neither took action. The following summer, Ramsey County rehired the lifeguard and assigned her to work with the supervisor who assaulted her. She then reported the assault to a third supervisor who finally took action.

By permitting the sexual violence to occur and by refusing to act after she repeatedly reported the sexual assault, Ramsey County violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

Ramsey County unequivocally caused tremendous harm by failing to act. In signing the settlement agreement with MDHR, Ramsey County agrees to work towards preventing sexual assault or harassment in the future. The agreement states that Ramsey County will update its policies to ensure that incidents of sexual harassment are addressed promptly after they are reported and the county will work with MDHR to review and modify these policies over the next three years. The county will also provide sexual harassment prevention training to all lifeguard supervisors.

“We must send a message that sexual assault cannot be ignored and cannot be tolerated,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo. “As a survivor of sexual assault by a co-worker, I know all too well how devastating it is to know that your superiors will not take your assault seriously. The initial response to this incident was unacceptable, but it highlights systemic problems throughout our society. Ramsey County is committed to doing better and has implemented policy changes to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

To further address the pervasiveness of sexual violence against minors, MDHR filed a lawsuit today against West Lutheran High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, for permitting the sexual assault and harassment of a student. During the 2014-15 school year, West Lutheran High School failed to protect a then ninth grader who was sexually harassed and assaulted multiple times by other students. Rather than ensuring the student’s safety, the school retaliated against her by preventing her from returning for her tenth grade year.

MDHR attempted to conciliate with West Lutheran High School after the Department found probable cause that discrimination occurred but conciliation was unsuccessful, necessitating litigation to provide justice for the survivor and to prevent further harm to other students. The lawsuit against West Lutheran High School was filed today in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. MDHR is represented by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

“Anyone who experiences sexual harassment, abuse, or violence deserves to be believed and supported the first time they tell someone and to be protected from future violence,” said Hannah Laniado, Interim Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. ” Our member programs, who are community based advocacy agencies, offer free and confidential services to victims/survivors of sexual assault—available 24/7 throughout Minnesota. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment, abuse, or violence you can find your local advocacy agency at rapehelpmn.org."

If you believe you have been discriminated against in violation of the /mdhr/yourrights/mhra/index.jspMinnesota Human Rights Act, please contact MDHR at 651.539.1133, 1.800.657.3704 or email info.mdhr@state.mn.us. For more information, please visit mn.gov/mdhr or follow the conversation on Twitter at @mnhumanrights.

Documents: /mdhr/assets/Ramsey%20County%20Fully%20Executed%20Settlement%20Agreement%2C%20Charge%2C%20and%20Determination_tcm1061-396702.pdfRamsey County Fully Executed Settlement Agreement, Charge, and Determination and /mdhr/assets/West%20Lutheran%20High%20School%20Summons%20and%20Complaint_tcm1061-396744.pdfWest Lutheran High School Summons and Complaint

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Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Communications Department 
540 Fairview Ave N, Suite 201, St. Paul, MN 55104
www.mn.gov/mdhr

Contact MDHR 
Taylor Putz, Communications Director
651.226.4615 
Taylor.Putz@state.mn.us

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