Joel J. Feller, a founding partner of Ross Feller Casey, filed a major federal civil rights lawsuit yesterday against the Somerset Area School District alleging administrators failed to prevent a teacher from sexually abusing a young student despite obvious signs over years that he was preying on her.
The teacher, Stephen Shaffer, was sentenced in 2010 to seven years in prison after a jury convicted him of multiple sexual abuse counts against an eighth-grade student of his.
The lawsuit filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania alleges, among other things, that school officials, at the highest level, violated the victim’s civil rights by not taking steps sooner to remove Shaffer from the classroom.
“Shaffer’s open and notorious behavior went unchecked for years. Emboldened by the district’s inaction, this predator stalked and sexually abused a 14-year-old child, robbing her of an innocence many of us take for granted,” according to Feller, who is representing the victim in the case. “The devastation wrought by their inaction cannot be overstated. As a result of their deliberate indifference to her sexual abuse, and Shaffer’s years of manipulation, this girl has suffered mental and physical abuse, and continues to suffer from the catastrophic consequences of the district’s inaction.”
The child abuse lawsuit generated widespread media coverage in the central part of Pennsylvania, including on the front pages of The Tribune-Democrat (read the story) and The Daily American (read the story) and on WTAJ-TV: