The Davenport School District, hit with a $3.85 million judgment in a lawsuit by a former student, earlier refused a settlement for much less.
Attorney Dick Eymann says he offered to accept about $1 million on behalf of Heather Giles, who claimed she wasn’t protected from a school counselor who raped and exploited her.
Settlement negotiations ended after the district suggested about $200,000 instead.
“We didn’t want to pay $1.1 million,” said John Hotchkiss, who represented the tiny school district in the Jan. 3 settlement conference.
“We didn’t feel the case was worth the kind of money they were asking. Apparently the jury felt otherwise.”
Jurors sided with Giles, 22, in the U.S. District Court trial Monday night by awarding her $3.5 million and her parents another $350,000.
They agreed the district didn’t properly investigate and supervise counselor Charles “C.J.” Jungblom or train its employees in harassment issues. Jurors also decided Davenport administrators didn’t protect her from sexual abuse or exploitation.
Jungblom is serving prison time in Arizona for paying Giles to make pornographic videos.
Jaws dropped at school districts throughout the area as word of Monday night’s verdict spread from office to office, school to school.
“It keeps us in public schools on notice that we have other people’s children,” said Phil Snowdon, Cheney School District superintendent. “That public trust we have is something we may not always take as seriously as we should.
“Three million or 4 million or 10 million will not undo what happened. But maybe that’s the only way we have to compensate in our society.”
Donn Livoni, superintendent of the Liberty School District, said the verdict reminds educators to be vigilant about checking out complaints of sexual harassment.
“You need to take every kind of complaint very seriously and do a very thorough investigation so those kinds of things aren’t overlooked,” Livoni said.
Liberty is among about 100 Eastern Washington school districts - mostly small and rural - in an insurance cooperative with Davenport.
The districts shared a $50,000 deductible in the lawsuit, which was exhausted long ago, said David Canfield, who handles insurance claims for the Davenport district.
While the verdict shouldn’t affect rates, it probably sets a record in the 11-year-old insurance pool, Canfield said.
“I’m not aware of a settlement over $500,000 in the history of the pool for any claim in any school in the entire program,” he said.
To help prevent such cases, Spokane District 81 toughened its anti-harassment policy more than a year ago, said Superintendent Gary Livingston.
“We’ve tried to take it serious and we talk about it,” he said. “It’s in our training.”
Davenport Superintendent Dave Iverson said his district’s loss will probably prompt many districts to re-evaluate how they handle harassment.
“I imagine everybody will be taking a look at it and they’ll probably be doing workshops on it all over the state,” Iverson said.
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