Joel Feller, a founding partner of Ross Feller Casey, recently reached a major $5 million settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging administrators at the Somerset Area School District in Pennsylvania failed to prevent a teacher from sexually abusing a student for years beginning when she was in the eighth grade.
In a front-page article in The Daily American newspaper, Feller said that his client was “extremely courageous throughout this entire process” and that she “is pleased with the settlement and is hopeful that her case achieves her goal of bringing attention to this issue of protecting innocent children and making sure that this never happens again to another child.”
Stephen Shaffer, a science teacher with the Somerset Area School District, began physically and mentally abusing the student when she was 14. Shaffer was sentenced to seven years in prison after a jury convicted him of multiple sexual abuse counts against the student.
Officials with the Somerset Area School District, including those at the highest level, violated the victim’s civil rights by not taking steps sooner to remove Shaffer as an educator, the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania alleged.
Feller went on to tell the paper that the goals of the lawsuit were to “shed light on the responsibilities of school district officials to put safety and the well-being of students ahead of the reputation of the school district or school teachers” and “to demonstrate that a school district cannot create a hostile educational environment and violate a student’s right to an education free from sexual harassment and abuse.”