Category Archives: Sexual Harassment

California High School Students Accused of Taking Upskirt Pictures

Muff Shots
Looking up skirts

By attorney Michael Ehline – Yes you heard it right, Catholic School kids got caught taking snapshots of their teacher’s panties. When I was growing up, I heard stories about fellow classmates taping mirrors to their shoes so they could see up the school-girls’ skirts.  I never thought much of it, since I had the persuasive ability to remove that “skirt” barrier with just a little sweet talk even back then. All joking aside, there are some sick people out there who need a little more parental supervision and instruction, and perhaps a little less Ritalin or other drug concoction.

In this case, rather than give “teach” an appreciative apple, we have a situation where she is being treated as a sexual object by her charges. This is pure madness. In any event, I thought of the potential liabilities and damages of all concerned if someone were to take their own life due to the embarrassment and grief, as well as other potential claims, if this were to go to court and wanted to share this with parents and teachers, so they have an idea of my findings so far.

Teens alleged to Have Taken Upskirt Photos of Female Teachers

First off, these allegations involve teen boys. This means the parents are still legally liable up to certain amounts for the torts of their children, incorrigible or not.  The facts relate that in 2013 some male students attending Serra High School in San Mateo, California are alleged to have been involved in a game of taking upskirt pictures of female teachers.

Victims of The Teacher of UpSkirt Game

One of the teachers who became a victim of the students game was Serra High School teacher 38 year-old Kimberly Bohnert. The teacher has said of the embarrassing photos that she heard one of the students describing her private parts in the hallway.

School, Child or Parent as a Defendant?

First, you have to figure out what you would sue each potential party for.  The potential defendants would be the parents, the kids and the school because each party is responsible in same way for the custody, management and control of the kids who were looking up the teacher’s skirt. This is probably not an assault, kidnapping, battery or defamation case.  What the heck is it? I would say it is intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IED”) as a starter as far as the kids go, and I cold see the parents potentially being on the hook for this in one way or another.

But I can see many other theories of recovery as against parent and child. For now I just want to see who I can sue, so let’s go with IED. As a great attorney, the first thing you will need to do is analyze where the deep pockets are to pay your claims. In cases where a child is under 4 years old,  the general rules is that children cannot be sued for negligence.  But there is some authority to suggest the child could be sued for intentional acts. (Good luck collecting the damages though.)

As a child gets older into the teens however, a few jurisdictions have been known to use the “reasonable adult” standard when determining liability in torts by teens and youngsters between 4 and 14. So if a reasonable adult would not have run A over with a car, then a teen, B, for example should not have done so either and the negligence standards of reasonableness would apply. In cases such as bullying and harassment, if a child intentionally injures a person, juries can often be instructed to identify if the defendant child is mature enough to form the actual intent to commit that harm. If this is found, then a child can definitely be sued.  So now we have established that the teens definitely can be sued here.

But who will pay? Perhaps the kids have a trust fund held for them until the child reaches 18, from their grandparents who passed away for example? Would a court allow it to be pierced? Maybe, or maybe not. In most cases, parents are vicariously liable for the bad acts of kids under a negligent supervision theory, but not always.  In California, parents are civilly liable for a “minor’s acts of willful misconduct resulting in death, personal injury or property damage.”  (See Cal. Civ. Code § 1714.1 (2005).)

So here, the facts demonstrate a willful act, IED. The problem is that there is zero insurance coverage available for willful acts, as a matter of public policy, and thus, the teacher would have to try and go after hard assets, instead of cold, hard insurance cash, which is a problem, considering the things people do to hide assets and avoid paying judgments. The attorney has to find a way to not only get liability, but also get the money.

Here, ex-teacher Bohnert is fighting back by filing a lawsuit against the high school, alleging that in her classroom in the Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, she was harassed for two years. The lawsuit goes on to claim that the school that is all male, failed to protect her and other female teachers. The teacher is seeking back pay and damages.  The school has already expelled six students and suspended six students after the incident came out.

Sexual Harassment

Individuals are protected from sexual harassment by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as a form of sexual discrimination. Title VII employment sexual harassment is overseen and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This agency administers, investigates and resolves unfair employment practices, including sexual harassment in the workplace. So here, the basis of the suit appears to be that the school failed to protect the female teacher from sexual harassment by the student body.

One can easily see how a depressed teacher could become suicidal over this.  Depression and public embarrassment is huge in cases like this. So assuming there was a suicide here or in a future case like this, it is easy to see how a survivor could sue the school for a self inflicted death, based upon these same exact facts. This is just one of many examples of a case that could destroy the life of a person.

Collecting money damages, getting into therapy and curing and correcting depression is mandatory. This teacher will have this stigma hanging over her head forever. I have not seen a copy of the complaint, but based upon my research, it appears the only defendant is the school.  The plaintiff could not sue the parents or kids for sexual harassment, since they are not employees of the school. But there are other claims such as invasion of right of privacy type theories that could be considered.

We will keep you updated. The takeaway from this should be that parents need to take more of an active role in constructing a moral base for their kids, and that public servants who run tax funded schools, as well as religious schools who should take more of an active role in protecting employees from out of control children. Boys looking up the skirts of female teachers need to understand that doing so is wrong. Taking pictures of your teacher’s privates is the epitome of moral bankruptcy. All roads lead to the parents in my view. What is your take on this?

Other Resources:

Jeremy Cloyd, Esq.  Bad Parenting Does Not Always Equal Tort Liability in California: July 2013. Plaintiff Magazine.

Walker, Nancy E., Catherine M. Brooks, and Lawrence S. Wrightsman. 1999. Children’s Rights in the United States: In Search of a National Policy. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Postman, Neil. 1982. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Delacorte.

Purdy, Laura M. 1992. In Their Best Interest? Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Richards, Janet Leach. 1999. “Children’s Rights v. Parents’ Rights: A Proposed Solution to the Custodial Relocation Conundrum.” New Mexico Law Review 29 (spring).