Lawsuit alleges Millbrae middle school teacher sexually abused students

MILLBRAE – The Millbrae Elementary School District employed a teacher who allegedly sexually abused and harassed at least two female students and then failed to take appropriate action when the claims came to light, according to a lawsuit filed in San Mateo County.

The 24-page complaint for personal injuries and damages alleges former Spanish and math teacher Ethel Molina groomed the seventh-grade students at Taylor Middle School “with the intent of manipulating their emotions and taking advantage of their young age so that she could ultimately sexually abuse them” during the 2013-14 school year.

Molina allegedly groped and inappropriately touched the students during and after class, according to the suit. She also allegedly sexually harassed the students by repeatedly making comments about the way they looked and complimented their bodies.

Toward the end of the school year, the students along with three or four others reported the abuse to administrators, according to the suit. The students said they did not witness any administrator contact police and they were not contacted by police.

In addition, the lawsuit alleges administrators gave students the choice of either reporting the abuse to their parents or leaving it to administrators to deliver the news. Only one of the students chose the second option. Administrators “vaguely told” her parents what had happened, but guaranteed them they would “handle the reports appropriately.”

“This assertion was false,” the suit states. “Defendants and the school did nothing.”

The school district “negligently failed to monitor and supervise” Molina and “negligently failed to adequately implement or enforce any district-wide procedures or policies aimed at preventing, detecting or deterring the sexual harassment or abuse of students by teachers,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit also alleges the district did not report the abuse to police as required by law.

In a statement, Millbrae Elementary School District Superintendent Debra French said the district had not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on pending litigation. The suit was filed Monday and names the district and school as defendants.

“When served we will promptly investigate any and all allegations which suggest student safety has been compromised,” French said. “With that said, Millbrae Elementary School District is deeply committed to fostering positive learning environments, preparing our students for success and ensuring the safety, security and well-being of all students entrusted to our care. We do not tolerate any behavior that undermines those values.”

The suit seeks damages for past and future medical, psychotherapy and related expenses, as well as general damages for physical and mental pain and suffering and emotional distress.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said a criminal case was never presented to prosecutors.

“We might still be within the statute” of limitations, Wagstaffe said. “We may give a call to see what’s going on.”

The lawsuit comes roughly three years after a judge sentenced former Taylor Middle School teacher Heather Butts to four months in jail for having a sexual relationship with a former student. The two were spotted kissing inside a van in August 2016 and an investigation revealed earlier sexual conduct between them in October 2015. Butts ultimately pleaded no contest to one felony count of lewd acts with a 15-year-old.

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