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Teacher’s Spat Over Up-Skirt Photos Settled

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco has settled a lawsuit over its alleged mishandling of an investigation into students that distributed lewd images of their science teacher.

Kimberly Bohnert sued the Junipero Serra High School and the archdiocese in May 2014 after learning that students took "up-skirt" photographs of her and a "graphic video" during her science classes in 2013.

Bohnert and the other parties settled on Tuesday, less than two weeks before a jury trial was set to begin on Nov. 30.

"The lawsuit has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties," said archdiocese spokesman Michael Brown. "And by agreement we cannot discuss any part of that settlement or its details."

Bohnert claimed that after learning of the photos, school officials deleted the images from students' cellphones. Only after Bohnert told school administrators she was going to file a police report did they inform the San Mateo police, she said.

The police investigation revealed the photographs and video were part of a student challenge that had been going on for at least three years. Investigators also found that school officials already knew about the student challenge from their own investigation, Bohnert claimed.

In her May 2014 complaint, which was removed to Federal Court in June 2014, Bohnert said the school "purposely truncated its own investigation so as to not learn or reveal the scope of the problem existing on its campus, and failed to take effective remedial measures to address the behavior of its student body and/or assure that such conduct would not be repeated in the future."

Phone calls to Junipero Serra High School Principal Dr. Barry Thorton seeking clarification on the school's policies for investigating sexual harassment allegations were referred to the archdiocese.

Brown said the archdiocese does have a policy on how it handles and investigates such allegations, but he declined to divulge any details of the policy.

In a September 2014 ruling, U.S. District Judge William Orrick found Bohnert presented a plausible case for emotional distress, but he also found the archdiocese could not be held liable as a nonprofit religious institution under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. But Orrick said Bohnert could present evidence to show the San Mateo-based high school "is an employer subject to liability under FEHA."

Bohnert filed an amended complaint in October 2014 against the archdiocese and the high school claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to prevent harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and FEHA violations.

She sought back pay, front pay, punitive damages and an injunction in her amended complaint.

Mathew Stephenson and Deborah Kochan of Berkeley represent Bohnert, and the archdiocese is represented by George Tichy II of Littler Mendelson in San Francisco.

Both parties submitted a voluntary stipulation of dismissal on Nov. 17, establishing a 60-day window for them to finalize the settlement before the case is dismissed with prejudice.

The attorneys did not return emails and phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday afternoon.

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