ORLANDO (CN) – A federal judge refused to dismiss two lawsuits that accuse Volusia County of enabling a culture in which underage female lifeguards feel forced to have sex with their adult supervisors.
While working as a lifeguard for the Volusia County Beach Patrol in 2008, Ashley Drury says she felt coerced as a 17-year-old into having sex with her three supervisors because it was “part of the culture” and “a condition for employment.” Two of the supervisors, Jecoa Duane Simmons and Robert Paul Tameris, were 30 and 43 years old at the time; “senior lifeguard” Christian Duarte was also 30.
In August 2010, she filed an 11-count complaint against those men, as well as the county and four local officials for battery, negligent hiring, constitutional violations, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent retention.
Simmons and Tameris moved for summary judgment on the pleadings of four of Drury’s allegations – all of which were specific to them, though they did not fight the battery claim at this stage. Duarte, the senior lifeguard, moved to dismiss or for “more definite statement” in the alternative.
The county and four officials also moved to dismiss.
Ultimately U.S. District Judge John Antoon decided to dismiss the claims against the three county officials sued only in their official capacity, but the claims against Beach Patrol director Kevin Sweat in his individual capacity will still stand.
In a separate January 2011 lawsuit, Danielle Smith sued Volusia, Sweat and Curtiss Geber for negligent supervision and retention, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy.
Smith says she was 17 years old and working as a lifeguard for the beach patrol when she agreed to go on a date with the 36-year-old Geber, her supervisor.
On the date, she claims Gerber took her to a sports bar, bought her alcohol and then performed oral sex on her at his home.
Geber filed an answer to Smith’s complaint, but the county and Sweat wanted all counts against them dismissed.
Antoon rejected claims by both sets of defendants that the women had filed vague, conclusory and repetitive “shotgun pleadings.”
“It contains eleven counts in forty-one pages and provides fair notice of the claims brought against each defendant and the basis therefore,” Antoon wrote, with regard to Drury’s complaint, on April 28.
Drury had agreed to dismiss the claims against the three officials as “superfluous” since the county is the proper defendant. She argues that Sweat is individually liable since he helped foster the conditions and policies that resulted in her underage sex.
Antoon ultimately agreed. “Plaintiff has described widespread abuse and has set forth a factual basis for Sweat’s knowledge or reason to know and his failure to take corrective action,” the 26-page ruling states.
Smith had made similar claims in her complaint. She says she could not have consented to sex with Gerber because she was a minor and because of “a ‘coercive environment’ that existed in the Beach Patrol” that encouraged sexual abuse of minors by the senior lifeguards.
“The sexual abuse and coerced intercourse by employees of the Volusia County Beach Patrol was not an occasional occurrence by a few isolated individuals, but was a regular fact of life for members of the Beach Patrol occurring over the course of many, many years,” her complaint states, as quoted by Antoon.
After Smith’s parents confronted Sweat about their daughter’s date, Geber resigned and the county took no further action against him, according the ruling.
Smith claims Sweat blamed her for not rejecting Geber’s advances and made it known that he would have preferred to have fired her, but didn’t in fear of being sued. She also alleges that other male lifeguards constantly pursued her after Sweat told the staff that she had been intimate with Geber.
Antoon refused to dismiss both women’s claims for violations of their civil rights. He said Drury illustrated how the defendants used their positions to take advantage of a minor by saying that sexual abuse was “part of the culture” of the job.
And Geber in fact asked Smith on a date during work, exercising his authority over her, according to the ruling about her lawsuit.
Antoon also rejected the defendants’ allegations that statutory rape is not a constitutional violation.
He did dismiss Drury’s conspiracy claim, which accused the defendants worked together to hinder the investigation into her claims by destroying evidence and preventing witnesses from talking. “Plaintiff does not allege that the conspirators acted with the intent to deprive her of equal protection, and this is fatal to her claim,” Antoon wrote.
Drury has until Friday to file an amended complaint.
Antoon said Smith supported her allegations for the county’s liability since other minors allegedly suffered similar abused while working for the beach patrol.
The claims for negligent supervision and retention were dismissed due to a premature filing.
Antoon said the allegations support the emotional-distress and invasion-of-privacy claims, since Sweat allegedly told staffers about the plaintiff’s affairs to embarrass her.