Ramsey County, Plymouth school face discipline in sex harassment cases

The two cases involve Ramsey County and West Lutheran High School in Plymouth.
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Ramsey County and a high school in Plymouth are under the microscope for their handling of two separate cases of sexual assault and harassment.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced on Thursday it has taken legal action against the county and West Lutheran High School in Plymouth.

The Ramsey County case concerns a 16-year-old female lifeguard who in 2013 was sexually assaulted by her male supervisor when the beaches they were monitoring were closed.

The supervisor then used a county vehicle to purchase emergency contraceptives.

According to settlement documents, the lifeguard reported the incident to the parks services coordinator, who did nothing besides tell the lifeguard to talk to a relative who also knew her supervisor.

The following summer, the lifeguard was rehired by the county. She told other employees she was uncomfortable around the male supervisor. After making comments about the sexual assault, one senior lifeguard initiated an investigation into the incidents, according to the documents. That summer, a criminal complaint was issued against the supervisor.

According to the MDHR, Ramsey County’s actions in this case violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The settlement agrees that the county will update its sexual harassment policies and provide sexual assault training to all lifeguards.

“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,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Trista Matas Castillo in a statement.

"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."

Plymouth school failed to prevent harassment

The second case involves a lawsuit filed Thursday by the MDHR against West Lutheran High School in Plymouth.

The lawsuit alleges the school did not take proper steps to investigate repeated instances of sexual harassment of a female student by her male peers.

Reported instances included gossiping, sexual harassment and sexual assault. These instances were reported to the school’s principal, but an investigation was never brought forward.

At the same time, the female student was threatened with expulsion if she initiated an investigation and the principal found the claims to be false, according to the lawsuit.

Because conciliation was not reached, the MDHR is pursuing litigation, according to the press release. MDHR is represented by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. 

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