Former Elk Grove Unified teacher sues district, says no action taken against students who allegedly photographed genitalia

A former Elk Grove Unified teacher has filed a lawsuit against the district after taking no substantial action against two junior high sch...

A former Elk Grove Unified teacher has filed a lawsuit against the district after taking no substantial action against two junior high school students who took cell phone photographs of his genitalia and airdropped and posted them on social media. The lawsuit was filed in Sacramento Superior Court in January.

The plaintiff in the case, who identifies in the lawsuit as a heterosexual male, was a teacher at Elk Grove Unified School District's James Rutter Middle School in Sacramento. The lawsuit says the individual, who we will identify as Mr. Smith, no longer works for the school district. In addition, the lawsuit identified the two juvenile males accused of the photography by name.

According to the lawsuit, Smith was urinating in a locked bathroom stall when unbeknownst to him, Student A took a photograph that showed his face and genitals. Student A then sent it via cellphone to Student B.

Upon receipt, Student B distributed the image via Apple Airdrop to the entire school so "every student, teacher, staff, and parent in the vicinity had access to the photo." After airdropping the image, which showed Smith's face and genitals, Student B also posted them to a now-deleted Instagram account that the lawsuit claims displayed "multiple unsolicited bathroom photos of both students and teachers." 

While students A and B are not explicitly named as defendants, plaintiff attorney Jeffrey Hogue of San Diego-based Hogue & Belong argues the action resulted from the failure of Rutter's principal, Sonia Quinones Rambo. The filing's narrative includes several examples of how Rambo mishandled on-campus student cell phone use.

The lawsuit notes that a California law enacted in 2020, Assembly Bill 272, allows school districts to limit or prohibit the use of cell phones on campus during classroom instruction to address cyberbullying. Elk Grove Unified's "policy explicitly prohibits use of those devices during all instructional and passing times (including lunch periods)."  

The plaintiff argues lax enforcement of rules resulted in numerous cases where alleged student actions went unpunished. Moreover, the lax enforcement assertions extended beyond cell phones to other areas, including the dress code.

The lawsuit cited an example where a teacher complained to the school administration about a female student wearing a "tiny 'tube top'" and that it "created a sexually-charged, hostile work environment." The lawsuit also cites several incidents that indicate Rambo did not address. 

These actions "fostered a hostile and abusive climate where students were free to misbehave and harass teachers without any consequences." It is also asserted that Rambo created more liberal student cell phone use guidelines, which is contrary to district standards. 

The plaintiff's attorney suggested the lax enforcement and liberalization of cell phones were to lower the school's disciplinary statistics. It is asserted that during her first year as principal in 2018, Rambo "implemented a relaxed suspension policy so that RUTTER MIDDLE SCHOOL administration could report less suspensions. This tactic allowed RUTTER MIDDLE SCHOOL to avoid disciplining misbehaving students - even though the policy reducing disciplinary measures lead to more incidents of gross student misbehavior."

Over the last several years, the Elk Grove School District has been identified as having one of the highest suspension rates of Black students statewide. Parents of affected students have regularly appeared at district board meetings expressing their concerns.  

Several Rutter Middle School teachers are also cited in the lawsuit who are said to have complained to district administrators about Rambo about a variety of infractions and the campus environment. The campus was closed from March 2020 to August 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, and when in-class instruction resumed, the lawsuit asserts "the rampant sexual harassment and violence increased even more."

Several weeks after in-class instruction resumed, three students filed what the plaintiff's attorney called false reports of teacher Smith having an erection. Although an investigation did not substantiate the student's claims, the lawsuit says that the students were not disciplined for filing a false report.

The lawsuit also names another juvenile male student, Student C, who took similar pictures of other teachers and made false accusations about them on social media. Student C was not disciplined, the lawsuit claims.  

Plaintiff Smith is seeking relief on five counts; disparate treatment-discrimination; hostile work environment - sexual harassment; failure to prevent discrimination and harassment; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and negligence. 

The lawsuit summarized the complaint by saying, "Had RUTTER MIDDLE SCHOOL's administration protected its teachers rather than sacrificing disciplinary measures in exchange for favorable faux statistical disciplinary action, RUTTER MIDDLE SCHOOL would have prevented the pervasive sexual harassment that Mr. Smith suffered - especially from repeat offenders like Student C." 

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