'We must send a message': Human Rights Dept. settles sexual assault case, files another

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights was busy Thursday, announcing a settlement agreement with Ramsey County and a lawsuit against West Lutheran High School.

In both cases, sexual assault and the harassment of minors are front and center. They each pay particular attention to people who failed to act in their positions of authority.


The settlement agreement involves a then 16-year-old seasonal lifeguard in the summer of 2013. While most of the beaches were closed, her supervisor scheduled the girl to work with him. He sexually assaulted her at the closed beach and drove her in a county vehicle to purchase Plan B emergency contraceptive.

The girl reported the assault to supervisors, neither of whom took action. Next summer, the county hired the lifeguard again and assigned her to work with the same man who assaulted her. After reporting the assault again, a third supervisor finally took action.

The Department found that Ramsey County violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by refusing to act after she reported the assaults.

“Ramsey County unequivocally caused tremendous harm by failing to act,” read a statement from the Department release.

The settlement agreement requires the county to work toward preventing sexual assault or harassment in the future by updating its policies so issues like this one don’t arise again. Sexual harassment prevention training will also be issued for all lifeguard supervisors.

“We must send a message that sexual assault cannot be ignored and cannot be tolerated,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo. “As a survivor of sexual assault by a co-worker, I know all too well how devastating it is to know that your superiors will not take your assault seriously. The initial response to this incident was unacceptable, but it highlights systemic problems throughout our society. Ramsey County is committed to doing better and has implemented policy changes to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”


Plymouth’s West Lutheran High School is also accused of permitting sexual assault and harassment of a minor, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Department.

During the 2014-2015 school year, the school allegedly failed to protect a ninth grade student who was sexually harassed and assaulted multiple times by other students.

The Department claims the school retaliated against the student by preventing her from returning for her 10th grade year.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. The Department of Human Rights will be represented by Attorney General Keith Ellison.

“Anyone who experiences sexual harassment, abuse, or violence deserves to be believed and supported the first time they tell someone and to be protected from future violence,” said Hannah Laniado, Interim Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "Our member programs, who are community based advocacy agencies, offer free and confidential services to victims/survivors of sexual assault—available 24/7 throughout Minnesota. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment, abuse, or violence you can find your local advocacy agency at rapehelpmn.org.”