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Marlborough settles suit by second former student who was sexually abused by her teacher

The Marlborough School announced Monday that it has reached a settlement with an unnamed former student who was sexually abused by Joseph Koetters, her English teacher.

The settlement, whose terms are confidential, came just before the case was set to go to trial and one month after the school settled with Chelsea Burkett, 33, who also was sexually abused by Koetters when she was a teenager. The women sued Marlborough for failing to protect them from sexual abuse.

“I hope that our schools will take real steps to shut down predatory behavior from here forward, so that no other girls will have to go through what Chelsea and I have gone through,” the unnamed former student said in a statement. “This case should serve as a warning to educators that ignoring their responsibilities to the children in their care can result in serious consequences. I hope that the protection of students starts to take priority over the need to protect a school’s reputation.”

Priscilla Sands, who heads the prestigious Hancock Park all-girls school, sent out news of the settlement to people affiliated with the school.

“We deeply regret and apologize for all that happened to both women as students,” Sands wrote. “We will be forever grateful to our alumnae for their bravery in coming forward, and truly believe Marlborough is a better environment today because of what we have learned through this process.”

“This litigation may be behind us, but our work is far from over,” Sands continued. “I pledge that transparency and advocacy for our students will remain our priorities.”

David Ring, the attorney who represented both women, said in a statement that his clients were pleased.

“This was incredibly difficult litigation for these two women,” he said. “But both of these courageous women stuck with it to the end. ... We are proud that we raised awareness that teacher-student abuse can occur anywhere, even in the most prestigious and elite private schools.”

Marlborough hired Koetters in 1999, after he taught at the private Viewpoint School in Calabasas. The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claimed that Marlborough “knew, had reason to know and was otherwise on notice that Koetters had previously engaged in unlawful sexual activities.”

According to the lawsuit, in the spring of 2004 Koetters began paying special attention in and out of class to the young woman identified as Doe 2. He chose an explicit book, “Pussy, King of the Pirates,” for her to read as an extra assignment, and met with her outside class to discuss it.

The complaint states that Koetters “took advantage of Plaintiff’s fragile mental state during a vulnerable time” in her life. He told her his marriage was one of convenience and that he and she shared a “special connection.”

Later that school year, they kissed on a trail, and then were involved for several months in unlawful sexual conduct, the complaint states. She was 16. Koetters was in his mid-30s. The relationship ended when Koetters’ wife gave birth and the teenage girl went away for the summer, the lawsuit said.

During the next school year, the plaintiff overheard a younger girl discuss Koetters’ advances, the lawsuit said. She confronted Koetters, who denied them.

Like Burkett, the woman identified as Doe 2 relived her trauma in 2014 when she read an anonymous article published by another student that detailed a relationship with a teacher identifiable as Koetters.

In 2015, she spoke to a therapist and shared her story in full for the first time. It was at that point, the lawsuit states, that she first realized Koetters had harmed her and “that her psychological injury as an adult was caused by the sexual abuse committed by Koetters during her high school years.”

Law enforcement authorities investigated Koetters and arrested him in connection with his alleged abuse of Burkett and Doe 2. In 2015, after pleading guilty to charges that he had engaged in sexual acts with the two when they were teenagers, Koetters was sentenced to a year in jail.

Burkett and the woman identified as Doe 2 also settled with Viewpoint School this weekend, the school’s attorney confirmed.

“There is a settlement and it’s confidential. That’s what I’m authorized to say,” said attorney Patricia Glaser of Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro. “It’s important for everyone to put it behind us.”

The women sued the school for fraud, stating that its administrators knew that “Koetters engaged in serious misconduct, including sexual harassment of girls” but Viewpoint “wanted to rid itself of Koetters in an efficient way.” So Viewpoint, their lawsuits stated, gave Koetters a positive recommendation and said that he parted from the school on “good terms.”

Representatives of Viewpoint did not immediately return requests for comment. A Marlborough spokeswoman said the school had nothing to add beyond Sands’ message.

“Sexual abuse and sexual assault are increasingly in the spotlight, and the opportunity to turn public outcry and #metoo into sustained change is boundless,” Burkett said in a statement. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished these past three and a half years, but there’s much work to come in holding organizations, industries and lawmakers accountable to a much higher standard.”

joy.resmovits@latimes.com

Twitter: @Joy_Resmovits


UPDATES:

12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Chelsea Burkett.

11:57 a.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the unnamed plaintiff.

This article was originally published at 11:45 a.m.

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