Newington Settles Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against Former Teacher

A lawsuit accusing the town of failing to protect two students who said they were sexually abused by a long-term substitute gym teacher nearly 30 years ago has been settled for an undisclosed amount.

The confidential settlement was reached in early May.

In 2014, the two former students filed the lawsuit against the Newington Board of Education alleging that substitute gym teacher James Brown forced the boys to shower naked while he watched, according to court records.

The men, referred to in the lawsuit as John Doe and Brian Doe, were in the seventh and eighth grade at John Wallace Middle School in 1989 and 1990. They said the abuse caused them long-term guilt, shame and trauma that has impacted their self-esteem and confidence.

The men said in the complaint that Brown tried to touch them while they were naked and that Brown exposed his genitals to them during a demonstration in the school locker room on how to use a jock strap.

The lawsuit also accused Brown of taking other fifth-grade boys to a local health spa where he made them sit naked in a hot tub after afternoon intramural sports practice. At one point, the complaint said, Brown picked up one of the naked boys so that his genitals were near Brown's face.

The complaint stated that John Doe told the principal of the school and was allegedly brushed off by the administrator. According to the complaint, there is no evidence that Doe's concern was documented or investigated by anyone at the school.

In 1995, parents and students at Newington High School also complained that Brown was watching the boys he coached on the cross country team as they showered.

Brown was allowed to resign after those allegations under the threat of termination for misconduct. Brown received a positive letter of recommendation and went on to teach at St. Mary School in Newington until 1999, when he was accused of encouraging male students to masturbate while he showed them sexually explicit material in his school office or at his home.

Following those allegations, Brown was charged with 11 counts of risk of injury to a minor and impairing the morals of a minor. Brown was convicted of the molestation charges in 2002 and was sentenced to two years in prison.

The lawsuit accused the board of education of failing to protect the students and report the abuse after learning of the incidents. The lawsuit also claimed that had a Newington Board of Education member not written Brown a letter of recommendation, the abuse would not have continued at St. Mary.

"I think the issue here for us was the fact that the school had notice that Brown had been acting inappropriately with young boys and allowed him to continue teaching," said the former students' attorney, Cindy Robinson. "Not only that, but it's very likely that St. Mary relied on letters of recommendation that Newington Public Schools had provided."

Robinson said Brown's supervisor knew about the inappropriate conduct and didn't report it.

"Clearly, his supervisor knew this conduct was inappropriate and allowed him to continue teaching and even gave him a glowing recommendation," she said.

Robinson said she has seen a pattern in how schools handle allegations of abuse against teachers.

"They hide and disguise cases of child abuse. It's a theme that we've unfortunately seen that they don't terminate these teachers, but allow them to resign. It is very costly for school systems to terminate teachers," she said.

Bob Mitchell, who has been an employment lawyer in Stratford for 37 years, said it can cost $100,000 to $250,000 to terminate a teacher.

Mitchell said that former employers are also bound by law to protect the privacy of their former employees, even if that means withholding information about issues such as accusations of abuse.

"There's almost no information employers are allowed to disclose," he said. "They can provide dates of employment, wages and the position the person held."

In the Newington case, Robinson said mandatory reporting statutes should have protected the victims from further abuse by Brown.

"We have to be vigilant about protecting children. School should be the safest place for kids to be," she said. "These are people in ultimate positions of trust. These are not people in a dark alley, or a stranger. This is someone you look up to as a mentor."

The Newington town attorney did not return a request for comment.

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