Up-Skirt Teacher Photos May Cost Catholic School

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – After Catholic school students took and circulated lewd images of their teacher, the diocese may be liable for the woman’s emotional distress, a federal judge ruled.
     Science teacher Kimberly Bohnert sued Junipero Serra High School and the Archdiocese of San Francisco Parish in May after learning that students had taken up-skirt photographs of her, as well as a “graphic video,” during her science classes.
     U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick found Thursday that Bohnert may have a case for emotional distress.
     “The alleged conduct of defendants, including deleting incriminating photographs from students’ phones during the investigation, refusing to investigate or take corrective action in this case, and failing to address past incidents of graphic ‘up-skirt’ photographs, is not a normal incident of employment,” Orrick said.
     When school officials learned of the photograph on May 15, 2013, instead of reporting it to the police, they deleted the content from students’ cellphones and met with Bohnert the next day to tell her of the incident. School administrators contacted the San Mateo police only after Bohnert told them she was going to file a police report.
     The subsequent police investigation showed 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.
     “During the course of the school’s investigation, Serra school administrators allegedly deleted photos from phones confiscated from students, failed to report past incidents of ‘up-skirt’ photographs of other teachers to the police and failed to verify reports that one of its coaches had directed student athletes to delete such photographs from their phones,” Orrick said.
     Bohnert took a leave of absence in May 2013 and has not returned to work. She filed her lawsuit in San Francisco County Superior Court this past May 15 but the case was removed to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on June 20.
     Bohnert had also alleged violations of Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), but Orrick said the teacher cannot use FEHA to sue nonprofit religious organizations like the diocese.
     Though Orrick dismissed with prejudice the FEHA claims against the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Archbishop Corp., the Real Property Corp. and the Capital Assets Corp., he will let Bohnert amend her FEHA claim against the San Mateo-based school.
     Serra would also be exempt from FEHA as a nonprofit religious corporation under Bohnert’s pleading “that Serra is an integrated enterprise with the other defendants.”
     The teacher may be able to show, however, that “that Serra is an employer subject to liability under FEHA.”
     There was no motion to dismiss the claims under the Title VII of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act, which applies to employers that employ more than 15 people over the course of a year. FEHA applies only to private and government employers with at least five workers, according to Avvo.com.
     Named as defendants are the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, the Archdiocese of San Francisco Parish and School Juridic Persons Real Property Support Corp., and the Archdiocese of San Francisco Parish, School and Cemetery Juridic Persons Capital Assets Support Corp.
     Bohnert is represented by attorney Deborah Kochan, while Michelle Barrett of Littler Mendelson represents the defendants.

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