High profile attorney Gloria Allred on Thursday filed a lawsuit on behalf of a parent at Gilroy Unified School District claiming that district officials failed to take appropriate action after a chemistry teacher allegedly sent his student a number of sexually harassing text messages.
Allred did not spare any details about the sexual nature of the messages at a press conference Thursday, calling out the district for failing to “fulfill its legal duties.”
Also present at the press conference was Celeste Benn, the parent of the fifteen-year-old girl caught in the middle of the texting controversy.
The complaint alleges that in October 2014, Douglas Le sent Benn’s daughter a number of sexually harassing texts, which Allred said “included but were not limited to statements such as, ‘You suck d___,’ ‘Yeah your w___ mouth can fit whole apples in there.’”
“He allegedly also sent a text message indicating he wanted to defecate upon this child,” Allred said.
Le, who taught chemistry at Gilroy High School, resigned after getting arrested last week and is currently out of jail.
Investigators accuse the teacher of catfishing, posing as a female online and forming relationships with young men. Police said Le convinced hundreds of minors to send him lewd pictures.
At a school board meeting Wednesday, where Allred and Benn vociferously complained about the issue, a board member said the district served Le a notice of unprofessional conduct following Benn's original complaint. The board member also said the district had no indication Le was catfishing and received no further complaints.
“I stand here today on behalf of all the Gilroy mamas,” Ben said at the press conference. “Whether they are educated or uneducated, whether they speak English or Spanish, we all want the best for our children … It is time for the Gilroy School District to protect our children. I’m disgusted that the district did not do enough to protect my daughter.”
Allred said Benn reported the sexually inappropriate messages to the school district immediately after her daughter received them. “Our lawsuit alleges however that the district failed to report the abuse as required under the California Child Abuse and Neglecting Act," she said.
The lawsuit alleges that the texts were not immediately reported to law enforcement and that the district failed to take any meaningful action in response to the complaint.
Instead, Allred said, Lei was allowed to continue teaching at the school, “and continue to sexually harass a minor child until she finally had to change schools.”
“If the district had done what it should’ve done, Mr. Lei would not have been in a position to engage in sexually inappropriate behavior with hundreds of minors who are reportedly current and former Gilroy High School students,” Allred said.
“The school district must protect the children, that is their first and most important duty,” Allred continued.
When the school district learned about Lei’s alleged inappropriate behavior, Allred said, it was not enough to let him get away with a “slap on the wrist and then conduct business as usual.”
The district maintains that it had put a statement in Lei’s personnel file on unprofessional conduct. “That is simply not enough,” Allred said. Lei. Who was a probationary teacher, should have been fired right away, Allred said.
The lawsuit alleges negligence, including negligent supervision, negligent hiring and retention, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, sexual harassment, and gender violence.
Benn is seeking compensatory and other damages for her daughter.
“We want the district to know that there are consequences for failing to live up to their responsibilities,” Allred said. “The school district gets an F grade for failing to protect the children.”
Benn said that her family had moved across the country so that her daughter could attend Gilroy High School. “She had to leave her friends, her classes, her school … I hope that the Gilroy Unified has learned a lesson,” Benn said.
The District Attorney's Office said police are still investigating and have not yet handed the case over to them.