Mediation Works, A Local Story
Some always question the application of mediation in the case of sexual misconduct in a school or work environment due to the confidential nature of the settlement. The confidentiality of the settlements, it is claimed, prevents others from being warned or protected from future abuse. However, if you ask the participants, they are usually happy with the outcome and the process and the results can protect others.
Take the local case that has been in the news of the last three years - Doe v Presentation High School (PHS). The settlement in this matter is of course confidential and this post is purely speculative, but bear with me. Background on the story is that former students came forward claiming sexual abuse at Presentation High School at the hands of teachers or coaches and further claiming the school did not report the claims to authorities when they were notified of the abuses. These claims were posted on a website (and social media) and picked up by a NBC news as one of their investigative reports. The publicity led to more students and their parents coming forward with additional abuse allegations. Many of the claims had hit the statute of limitations, however those alum were hoping the school would respond anyway. However, the school denied the allegations for about a year. Doe v Presentation was filed August 2018.
An NBC Bay Area article by Robert Salonga posted days after the lawsuit was filed stated "the school and its critics have met with a mediator." The plaintiff was asking for compensatory and punitive damages to send a signal to the PHS to never let this happen again. The other victims wanted changes at the school. They first just wanted the school to listen and make changes to policy. But as PHS kept denying the allegations, the critics felt these administrators had to be held accountable, in addition to changes in policy, procedures, and trainings to protect students.
One month later, PHS President Miller resigned, more trainings for staff and students are announced, and policy changes for both student/teacher interaction and social media are implemented. PHS hires a new president, and hires private investigators to investigate the claims. These are things the critics have been asking for since fall of 2017. The school had 12 months to make some of these changes or even to begin discussion with the critics but instead the president and the board issued statement after statement (3 statements by PHS Principal Miller, 2 statements by the Board of Directors, and a statement by a public relations consultant hired by PHS (Salonga 2018)) denying the allegations. It seems likely that the mediator helped the parties come to the agreement to enact these changes. It ultimately took 18 months for the case to settle in December of 2019. PHS President Elkins released a statement indicating that the agreement was reached "equitably and with sensitivity" (Bott 2019) and apologized for harm to any student. PHS is in a much better position of regaining trust and integrity with this outcome than if they had gone to trial.
The private investigation results were made public in July of 2020 and are still available on the PHS website as well as statements by the Presentation Sisters and the President of PHS. On August 1 2020 the website detailing the allegations is gone and any searches for it are redirected to the PHS website. Again, it is not farfetched to surmise that the mediator helped facilitate the agreement to implement all of these changes.
In Mr. Bott's article, Ken Turek the attorney for the plaintiff, stated that "his client is pleased with the outcome." The other critics were interviewed and shown to be happy with the changes happening at PHS. Mediation was not only best for the plaintiff and defendant but a good result for former and any future students showing how mediation with confidentiality can be a great resolution method for all in sexual assault matters.
Salonga, R. (2018, August 10). Scandal at Presentation High: First lawsuit alleges girls school ignored sex abuse of theater student. East Bay Times. Retrieved August 20 from https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/08/10/scandal-at-presentation-high-first-lawsuit-alleges-girls-school-ignored-sex-abuse-of-theater-student/
Bott, M. (2019, December 18). Presentation High School Settles Sex Abuse Lawsuit. NBC Bay Area. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/presentation-high-school-settles-sex-abuse-lawsuit/2199770/
MakePresSafe.com. (2018, January 28). Statement from PHS. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from http://makepressafe.com/statements-from-phs/. Note: this page is no longer available.