Sunday, December 11, 2011

Student Sex Harassment Lawsuit to Settle; Counselor Must Keep Door Open, District Pays Student $57,500

Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
A Berkeley High School counselor must keep his door and office blinds open when he is with female students, according to a tentative agreement in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former student.
Attorney Michael Sorgen, who represents the student who sued her counselor in April, said Thursday the Berkeley Unified School District will also pay the 18-year-old woman $57,500.
The woman alleged in her lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco that counselor Anthony Smith subjected her to "severe and pervasive" sexual harassment in 2010 that included spanking, caressing and unwelcomed sexual comments. She also said he summoned her from classes to talk about issues not related to counseling.
In January 2010, the woman alleged Smith asked her what she wore to bed. "Oh, you don't sleep naked?" he allegedly responded.
Smith's attorney Mark Davis said the proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by the school board, includes no admission of guilt by Smith.
"There are conditions on counseling female students," Davis said. "But I don't think they are necessary given the absence of any similar complaints in the year since this issue arose."
Davis said having the blinds and door open while Smith counsels female students will protect him from "future allegations" but it will "probably restrict the ability of many students to have private conversations with their counselor."
Smith was placed on administrative leave in spring 2010 after the woman complained but later went back to work.
The school district investigated her complaint and found his behavior was inappropriate and unprofessional but refused to remove him from his counseling duties as she had asked.
Sorgen said he asked during negotiations that Smith be barred from counseling female students altogether but "they refused that."
"They also agreed that any time he pulls a female out of class, he would have to get administrative authorization first," Sorgen said.
Davis said Smith felt like he was set up.
"She came to Mr. Smith with significant emotional and academic problems and sought him out for numerous counseling sessions and he helped her," Davis said. "That was her best year academically. When, in response, she turns around and sues him, he was understandably upset."
Berkeley school district Superintendent Bill Huyett said in a statement Thursday the school district also admits no guilt.
"We do a thorough investigation in all cases, and we take the appropriate action when it is warranted, and furthermore, the school district does not admit to any wrongdoing in this case," Huyett said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at

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