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False sex rumors led to girl's expulsion from Catholic school, lawsuit claims

A father has filed a lawsuit against a Catholic grade school in Glendale, claiming his teenage daughter was wrongfully expelled following false rumors of sexual misconduct.

Roberto Pangilinan claims that his daughter, who had attended Holy Family Grade School for nine years, was expelled during her last semester of eighth grade after she reported being bullied by her peers, according to the complaint filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

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The lawsuit was filed against the school and its administrators, including Principal Fidela Suelto, Rev. James Bevacqua and Vice Principal Katharine Huntley, along with eighth-grade teacher Ashley Walden and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Suelto, along with a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on the pending litigation. Bevacqua could not immediately be reached for comment on the matter.

The lawsuit's claims include breach of contract, defamation of character, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

On Feb. 13, the teenager told Walden that her peers were spreading false rumors that she was having sex, and begged the teacher to make them stop, according to the lawsuit.

That week, the suit claims, the principal requested that certain unnamed students provide written statements about the rumor or they would not be allowed to participate in a class trip to Disneyland.

"This appears to be the extent of the investigation into [the student's] report of bullying," according to the lawsuit, which later states, "None of these defendants talked with the boys' parents or questioned the boys extensively or at all about the veracity of their accusations."

The suit alleges that Suelto refused to show the then-13-year-old girl's father the statements, but told him that four weeks earlier, she learned that two boys had seen his daughter in the boys bathroom, partially undressed, with her boyfriend.

According to the lawsuit, Suelto did not act on the allegations until the girl reported the bullying.

On Feb. 17, hours after a meeting with the teenager and her parents during which the girl denied sexual misconduct, Suelto informed the girl's father via email that his daughter had been expelled and would be escorted off campus immediately, the suit says.

According to the lawsuit, the school handbook states that expulsion decisions rest with the pastor after a parent-principal conference, but in this case, the principal made the decision on her own on the same day she met with the student's parents.

Additionally, the handbook has special rules for eighth graders, stating that "only in exceptional cases shall expulsion of an eighth-grade student who has been in the school one or more years be allowed," and if an expulsion is proposed in an eighth grader's last semester, "prior approval of the Department of Catholic Schools is required" before it can take effect, according to the lawsuit.

The suit seeks more than $500,000 in damages.

Tchekmedyian writes for Times Community News.

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Twitter: @atchek

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