March 2, 2012
Dan Tepfer, Connecticut Post
BRIDGEPORT -- A Superior Court judge Friday ruled the town of Westport can't use the shield of government immunity to protect it against a lawsuit by a young Westport woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by her high school teacher nearly nine years ago. Judge Barbara Bellis denied a motion from the town to dismiss the case setting up a trial to begin here on March 20.
"This is a situation where the school board broke its own rules and looked the other way even after receiving numerous complaints against this teacher," she said. "They were required to investigate and discipline him but instead allowed him to quietly resign and stay on and it is during that period he assaulted the plaintiff who was one of his students."
Westport school officials did not return calls for comment.
According to the lawsuit, the woman, now 24, is seeking unspecified damages against the Westport Board of Education, its former school officials, Supt. Elliott Landon and Principal John Brady, as well as the former teacher, Peter Eramo, of Milford.
In October 2004, Eramo was arrested on a second-degree sexual assault charge after authorities said he had sex with the girl when she was a junior at Staples High School. Police alleged that in May 2003, Eramo, a theater and English teacher at Staples High School, brought the then-17-year-old female student to a jazz club in New York City and plied her with alcohol before driving her to his apartment near Walnut Beach. He then undressed her before having sex with her on his couch, police said.
But in December 2009 Eramo was found not guilty of the charge by a Milford Superior Court jury after a four-day trial.
In depositions in the civil case the plaintiff's mother testified she complained to the principal in April 2003 after seeing what she characterized as inappropriate emails from Eramo to her daughter.
Another Staples's teacher, Gerald Kuroghlin, testified he made a complaint against Eramo in May 2002 after witnessing Eramo berate a female teacher in front of students about her ability to perform oral sex on him.
Court records also show that in February 2003 another female student accused Eramo of sexually harassing her and that same month the words, "child molester," were found written in Eramo's desk.
Eramo was not disciplined but was allowed to submit a letter of resignation but it wasn't effective until the end of the school year. On June 17, 2003 Eramo admitted that he had two female students stay overnight at his home and he was immediately fired, court records show.
In its motion to dismiss the case the town argued that the plaintiff's claims of negligence are barred by the doctrine of governmental immunity.
But the judge ruled that the evidence presented by the plaintiff shows sufficient facts that the alleged sexual abuse by the teacher was a foreseeable risk created by the school officials' negligent conduct and therefore is a decision to be left to the jury.