VAN NUYS, Calif. – A woman has reached a tentative settlement of her lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District in which she alleged she was sexually abused by a teacher when she was a senior in the magnet school program at Grover Cleveland Charter High School, then ostracized by fellow students when the popular teacher was forced to resign.
The plaintiff is identified only as Jane Doe in the Van Nuys Superior Court lawsuit brought in February 2021 when she was 29 years old, alleging sexual abuse of a minor, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. She sought unspecified compensatory damages against the LAUSD and punitive damages against the former teacher she alleged abused her, Brett Shufelt, whose October 2021 death removed him as a defendant in the case.
The plaintiff’s attorneys filed court papers on Thursday notifying Judge Valerie Salkin of a “conditional settlement” in the case and that a request for dismissal will be filed by July 19. No terms were divulged.
In their court papers, LAUSD attorneys denied school administrators were negligent in supervising either the plaintiff or Shufelt.
The plaintiff began attending Cleveland Charter High in Reseda as a freshman during the 2005-2006 school year and joined the magnet program there because she was interested in becoming a writer, the suit stated.
“After joining the program, she immediately heard about how some teachers in the program were creepy and heard rumors about students going to teachers’ houses during the school year and over the summer,” the suit stated.
The plaintiff soon realized that the magnet program focused on intense and heavy subject matters which led to very emotional conversations, leaving some students and teachers crying, the suit stated. Professional boundaries and lines between students and teachers became blurred, creating a toxic and unprofessional culture, according to the suit.
“This directly resulted in past teachers of Cleveland acting extremely inappropriately with students as well as past teachers having sexual relations with students,” the suit alleged.
During the spring semester of the plaintiff’s junior year, another teacher who was part of the magnet program sexually abused one of his students and was convicted for his criminal behavior, the suit states.
The school covered up the other teacher’s conduct to protect itself from legal exposure and negative media attention by allowing the teacher to leave the school without explaining why to students or their parents, the suit stated.
After that teacher’s departure, Shufelt was interviewed and hired to be a part of the magnet program for the 2008-2009 school year, the suit states.
Shufelt was himself a Cleveland High graduate and was “taught in the toxic and unprofessional culture … that surrounded the (magnet) program,” according to the suit.
The 2008-2009 school year also was Doe’s senior year, and she was bused into school very early in the morning, the suit states. Shufelt told her that she was arriving well before the school day started and could stay in his classroom, the suit stated.
“Shufelt used this time to start grooming and manipulating plaintiff with the ultimate intent of sexually abusing her,” the suit alleges.
Shufelt had personal conversations with Doe, and some of them began to be sexual in nature, the suit states. During a football game at Cleveland Charter High, Shufelt told her about a “shocking and disturbing picture” that a fellow Cleveland teacher showed him of her being intimate with someone, the suit stated.
The alleged grooming culminated with Shufelt inviting Doe to his home, where they had dinner and watched “The Devil Wears Prada,” the suit stated.
“It was at this point that Shufelt’s grooming and manipulation achieved his ultimate goal,” the suit stated.
Shufelt sexually abused Doe that night and again on another visit a short time later, and the molestations continued throughout December 2008, the suit states.
Due to growing suspicions about the plaintiff and Shufelt, the teacher resigned during the second semester of the 2008-2009 school year, telling the administration he was dating a student and wanted to be with her, the suit stated.
Because Shufelt was popular with students and staff at the school, Doe was harassed, ostracized and shunned, according to the suit, which further stated that one student said on social media that he wanted to “bash her brains in.”
Cleveland teachers began retaliating against Doe as well, the suit states.
“As a result of Cleveland’s administration taking no action after Shufelt resigned, he continued to prey and sexually abuse her throughout the second semester of her senior year and beyond,” the suit states.
Doe was so traumatized by her experience at Cleveland Charter High that years later, while at a mall, she had an emotional breakdown when she encountered a former fellow student because the meeting brought back memories of her senior year, according to the suit.