AAESA settles with teachers over former principal’s abuse

Allegan Area Educational Service Agency has agreed to a settlement by the U.S. Justice Department to pay two teachers $450,000 to resolve allegations that AAESA subjected them to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in violation of their civil rights, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan.

As part of the settlement, AAESA will review and revise its existing anti-discrimination policies and procedures and implement effective policies to protect its employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment.

AAESA will also train its employees to ensure that employees understand how and when to report potentially discriminatory behavior and to ensure that any future complaints of discrimination are handled properly.

The complaint, filed last August, alleged that AAESA discriminated against two female teachers when they were regularly subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace by their supervisor, former Hillside Learning and Behavior Center principal Jonathan Garcia.

As alleged in the complaint, the sexual harassment included verbal abuse as well as unwanted physical touching that escalated to physical assaults. Garcia was sentenced Aug. 10, 2016, to more than four years in prison for sexually assaulting the two teachers. The federal complaint alleged AAESA did not take reasonable steps to prevent the principal’s unlawful acts.

Both teachers filed charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the commission found there was “a reasonable basis” to believe that violations of Title VII had occurred.

After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the charges were referred by the EEOC to the Department of Justice. The two teachers intervened in the United States’ suit.

This settlement is part of the Civil Rights Division’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative announced in February 2018.

According to the press release, the initiative is aimed at eradicating sexual harassment in state and local government workplaces. It focuses on litigation, outreach, and development of effective remedial measures to address and prevent future sex discrimination and harassment.

The settlement must still be approved by a federal court.

AAESA officials declined to comment.

When the U.S. Department of Justice filed its lawsuit last August, AAESA officials at the time said they had been proactive in training employees to prevent sexual harassment.

At the time, AAESA superintendent William Brown said, “In addition, we will continue to take corrective action when informed of such violations.

“AAESA abhors unlawful and criminal acts of sexual harassment in the workplace.”

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