South Pasadena Unified didn't do enough to prevent two girls' sexual abuse, lawsuit claims

Two women are suing the South Pasadena Unified School District, alleging that as students they were sexually abused because the district was negligent.

The suit, filed Friday, comes months after Pierre Jonas Hernandez, the former track coach at South Pasadena High School, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor counts of child molestation and sexual battery. He was sentenced to 180 days of house arrest, and he must register as a sex offender for life.

Lawyers for the women declined to comment on the case Monday. The schools superintendent did not respond to a request for comment on short notice.

In April 2013, one of the students, then 16, was on the girls track team. Hernandez harassed her multiple times on campus and in the locker room, including “a full-body massage inside a locked locker room while they were alone,” the suit alleges. “During the course of the massage, Hernandez used lotion to massage her legs and slid his hand up, reaching under her shorts,” the suit says. Then he reached “under the top part of her shorts and massaged her buttocks,” the complaint claims.

In April 2014, Hernandez gave another girl on the track team, then 16, “inappropriate sexual massages on her buttocks, under her clothing only centimeters away from her private parts,” the complaint alleges. “Hernandez called this despicable act a ‘treatment’ and insisted that he give [the plaintiff] a full body massage in an underground locker room,” it continues.

The district “knew or should have known that Hernandez had previously engaged in dangerous and inappropriate conduct with children,” the lawsuit alleges. It says the district did not take the steps necessary to keep the students safe from sexual harassment.

Administrators should have noticed that Hernandez gave the two students preferential treatment, spent extra time with them and forced them to receive these massages, the lawsuit says.

The school district does not have a system in place to prevent sexual abuse of children and monitor teachers and staff “to prevent pre-sexual grooming and sexual harassment,” the suit alleges.

South Pasadena’s child abuse prevention policy requires the district to train teachers in a curriculum that includes “instruction in the ... rights and responsibilities to report abuse or neglect, and care for a child's needs after a report is made.” They’re supposed to teach students how to protect themselves.

This lawsuit was filed less than a week after 18 boys sued Torrance Unified School District, claiming that administrators ignored a report that the wrestling coach had molested a student, and that 25 boys were molested after that.

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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