September 17, 2020

Lawsuit Filed Against Diocese of Palm Beach and All Saints Catholic School Accuses School of Failing to Stop Sexual Abuse

Complaint Details Shocking Emotional Abuse and Victim Shaming by Principal to Protect the Abuser’s Wealthy Donor Family

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WEST PALM BEACH—A lawsuit was filed today against the Diocese of Palm Beach and All Saints Catholic School, as well as its Principal, detailing a shocking failure to protect an 11 year-old student against sexual abuse by her peer. When confronted with the allegations the school not only failed to protect the child from exposure to her abuser, but instead engaged in a campaign of victim shaming that caused her severe emotional and mental health distress. The lawsuit alleges the school sought to protect the abuser based on a belief that his family was a major donor with important financial connections to the school and non-profit institutions connected to the diocese.

The complaint alleges that from January through March 2020, the victim was subjected to sexual abuse on multiple occasions by her peer at All Saints, a private school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade located in Jupiter, Florida, when classrooms were left unattended without any teacher present.

In February, law enforcement and child welfare authorities were notified of the abuse and informed the school they had commenced an investigation. Despite fully knowing that abuse took place inside its classrooms, the school initially took no action to protect the survivor from exposure to the perpetrator. As a result, the victim faced humiliating bullying and retaliatory behavior by her abuser and classmates, including accusations that she made a false report and welcomed the sexual acts.

“The shocking disregard the school showed to the needs of a sexual abuse survivor is inexcusable.  We intend to present evidence demonstrating a pattern of behavior by the school administration to excuse sex crimes based on the school and diocese’s financial interests tied to wealthier parents,” said Michael Dolce, Partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which represents the survivor.

The abuse led to severe mental health trauma for the victim, including adverse developmental impact, severe mental health distress and disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, and the aggravation of pre-existing mental health conditions.

Rather than providing support, the school’s principal forced the victim to write an essay admitting to and taking responsibility for the mental health trauma she was suffering. This essay, which reflected sensitive personal and medical information, was shared by the principal with other classmates and parents. The victim’s parents and doctors were never consulted about the essay or its distribution, and she was eventually suspended from the school. Meanwhile, the abuser returned to the classroom without facing any discipline or punishment.

The lawsuit alleges that the school went to great lengths to protect the abuser because his parents are long-time and repeated substantial financial donors to the school itself and several charities connected to the school.

The victims and their families are being represented in this case by the Sexual Abuse, Sex Trafficking and Domestic Violence practice group at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. The group is led by Michael Dolce and Takisha Richardson. A highly regarded trial lawyer and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse himself, Dolce has dedicated his career to securing justice for survivors of sexual crimes. He was also instrumental in convincing the Florida legislature to repeal the state statutes of limitation for both civil and criminal prosecution of child sexual battery cases. Prior to joining Cohen Milstein, Richardson was an Assistant State Attorney in Florida and Chief of the Special Victims Unit of the State’s Attorney’s office, where she directed the prosecution of crimes against children and the elderly and sexually motivated offenses. 

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About Cohen Milstein 

Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is a national leader in plaintiff-side class action litigation. As one of the premier law firms in the country handling major complex lawsuits, Cohen Milstein, with more than 100 attorneys, has offices in Washington, DC; Chicago, IL; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Palm Beach Gardens, FL; and Raleigh, NC. For more information about the firm, please visit http://www.cohenmilstein.com or call 561.515.1400.