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Human Rights takes action in 2 sex assault, harassment cases

August 1, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced developments Thursday in two cases involving the sexual assault or harassment of minors — and those who allegedly failed to protect them.

The human rights department said it settled a lawsuit with Ramsey County involving the sexual assault of a then-16-year-old lifeguard by her supervisor in 2013. In a separate case, the department also sued West Lutheran High School in Plymouth on Thursday for allegedly permitting other students to inappropriately touch and harass a ninth-grade girl in 2014-2015.

“Living a life free of sexual assault and harassment is every Minnesotan’s civil right,” Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement. She added that the two cases demonstrate the department’s “commitment to building a world where everyone can lead lives full of dignity, free from sexual assault and harassment.”

The department says that in the lifeguard’s case, Ramsey County violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. In the settlement, Ramsey County denies any wrongdoing and disputes the allegations, but has agreed to pay $72,500 to compensate the victim.

According to the agency, most of the beaches were closed when the then-teen’s supervisor scheduled her to work with him. The department says he sexually assaulted her at the closed beach, then used a county vehicle to drive her to purchase an emergency contraceptive.

The lifeguard reported the assault to two other supervisors, but neither acted. The following summer, Ramsey County scheduled her to work with her attacker. She went to a third supervisor who took action.

It was not immediately clear if the alleged sexual assault was reported to police.

Under the settlement, Ramsey County agrees to work toward preventing future sexual assault and harassment and will update its policies to ensure incidents of sexual harassment are promptly addressed. The county will also provide sexual harassment prevention training to all lifeguard supervisors.

Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo says the initial response in this case was unacceptable.

“We must send a message that sexual assault cannot be ignored and cannot be tolerated,” she said.

In the case against West Lutheran High School, the department said that instead of protecting the girl from multiple incidents of unwanted touching, bullying and harassment, the school retaliated against her by barring her from school the following year.

The victim’s father and school principal went to the police, though it was not immediately clear whether charges were filed.

The school was closed Thursday afternoon and a voicemail and email weren’t immediately returned. Messages left with attorneys for both victims were not immediately returned Thursday.

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