Monday, April 28, 2014

New Lawsuit Filed Against St. Francis Prep: Teacher Allegedly Tells Student "I go to a place where people are very open with their bodies...we would love to have you."

A few people asked me what the allegations are in the new lawsuit filed against St. Francis Prep, involving Assistant Principal Mendolia and former teacher Fernando Sicilia, so I thought it best to take excerpts from the actual complaint filed in state court and put them here. The complaint is a public document, so you can go down to the courthouse and request to see it if you want to.

I have omitted a few allegations/names and/or identifying information to protect certain individuals, at least some of whom I am assuming will be called upon to testify when the time comes:

          Plaintiff, by and through her attorneys, Kevin T. Mulhearn, P.C., complaining of the Defendants, hereby alleges that:
          1.       This action is brought by a former student at ST. FRANCIS PREPARATORY SCHOOL (“ST. FRANCIS PREP”).
          2.       This action sounds in fraud related to myriad false statements made by Defendants to Plaintiff (and other students) regarding campus safety and the school environment at ST. FRANCIS PREP.   Plaintiff alleges that ST. FRANCIS PREP, knowing that it employed two serial sexual harassers of girls, continued to employ these harassers, took no remedial action to protect their students from them, and repeatedly misrepresented the nature of the school and school environment, by concealing their prior knowledge of their sexual harasser employees’ propensities to sexually harass girls (and that they knew that these employees were in fact sexually harassing girls at ST. FRANCIS PREP).

20.     Christopher Mendolia (who—despite the facts alleged herein—was promoted by ST. FRANCIS PREP in September 2013 to the position of Assistant Principal of Faculty) was one of the latter teachers who noticed Plaintiff’s low grades and despondence and chose to pick on her in front of the class.  Because she could not tolerate being embarrassed constantly, Plaintiff went to her assigned guidance counselor, Ms. Kunzi, to inform her teachers that she had extenuating circumstances that were affecting her schoolwork.

22.     Even after a letter was sent to her teachers about her troubles at home, Mr. Mendolia commented in front of Plaintiff’s classmates several times about how sad she seemed and chastised her for her many absences. 
23.     He would mock Plaintiff for her failing grades and often intentionally called on her to answer questions he was aware she could not answer. 
24.     There was one instance during Plaintiff’s sophomore year when Mr. Mendolia was nice to her, and that was a dress down day. 
26.     Mr. Mendolia commented on her attire: “WWWWW, you’re looking very nice today.”   “Nice” was stressed in a lascivious manner.
27.     Mr. Mendolia also openly ogled Plaintiff from behind when she threw scrap paper in the trash and again when she picked a pen up off the floor. 
28.     At the end of her sophomore year, Mr. Mendolia was addressing the class about being approved for A.P. U.S. History, and used her as an example of someone with “extenuating circumstances” who could still be approved for the advanced placement class, despite her grades being well below the normal cut off.
29.     In the winter of 2008, Plaintiff’s junior year, she was 16 years old. 
She registered for Driver Education in approximately early February with her close friend XXXXXXX.  Plaintiff, upon information and belief, paid ST. FRANCIS PREP approximately $500.00 to enroll in its Driver Education Program.
30.     Plaintiff and XXXXXXX were both assigned Mr. Mendolia for the afternoon session. 
31.     Driver Education began shortly thereafter. 
32.     Plaintiff’s parents signing consent forms which acknowledged that Mr. Mendolia was in loco parentis when Plaintiff was in the Driver Education car with him, meaning that Mr. Mendolia had some of the legal responsibilities of a parent when they were on the road. 
33.     Initially, it seemed that Mr. Mendolia was much kinder towards Plaintiff in the Driver’s Education Program than he had been when he was her social studies teacher.
34.     Plaintiff’s friend, XXXXXXXX, witnessed almost every event that took place in the Driver’s Education Program car.
35.     Mr. Mendolia would make conversation with the students in the car.
36.     Mr. Mendolia started with innocuous topics, such as who the students’ favorite and least favorite teachers were.
37.     However, Mr. Mendolia’s conversations with Plaintiff in the Driver’s Education Program car became increasingly personal. 
38.     They usually took place while she was driving.
39.     It began with what they had in common: babies in the family.
42.     Often, these conversations would veer into other more intimate topics.    43.          Mr.  Mendolia frequently discussed sex with Plaintiff in the Driver’s Education Program car.
44.     Mr. Mendolia told Plaintiff that he was not bothered by the idea of his child being sexually active as a teenager because, as he put it, “Everyone has sex.”
45.     Later on, in March of 2008, Mr. Mendolia frequently made comparisons between Plaintiff and his wife.
46.     On one occasion, he told Plaintiff, “You have beautiful eyes like my wife.”
47.     Mr. Mendolia added, “I got amber,” referring to his own eye color.
48.     Mr. Mendolia also told Plaintiff that his wife and she had the same hair color, light brown, and showed her their wedding photograph.
49.     The subject of abortion came up in the Driver’s Education Program car, and Mr. Mendolia said that Plaintiff was a perfect example of why abortion is a mistake. 
50.     Mr. Mendolia knew that Plaintiff’s mother was relatively young when Plaintiff was born, and said, with a wink, that if she had had an abortion, she wouldn’t have had Plaintiff. 
51.     This was said as something of a compliment.
52.     On or about March 10, 2008, Mr. Mendolia found out that Plaintiff was running for student body president.
53.     In the Driver’s Education Program car, while she was driving, Mr. Mendolia asked Plaintiff whether she had ever seen a film called “Election,” staring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick.
54.     Plaintiff had not seen the film.
55.     Mr. Mendolia told her that she should watch “Election” because, “It’s about a girl who’s running for student president and she’s fooling around with her teacher.”
56.     That evening, Plaintiff downloaded “Election,” an R-rated film, and was shocked by its explicit content and the striking parallels between the film and her circumstances, especially those concerning Mr. Mendolia.
57.     Matthew Broderick plays a social studies teacher; Jim McAllister, who goes by “Mr. M,” with a vendetta against a student, Tracy Flick, who is running for student president.
58.     In the film, Mr. M hate Tracy because she had an affair with his best friend, another teacher, “Mr. Novotny,” who was fired as a result.
59.     During the first few minutes of the firm, Mr. Novotny seduces Tracy because she is a troubled loner, much like Plaintiff was during her high school years, and brags to Mr. M about his affair with Tracy.
60.     Mr. Novotny described Tracy’s female anatomy with detail and enthusiasm.
61.     The film shows Mr. Novotny passionately kissing Tracy in a school dark room and it is implied visually that they have sex in Mr. Novotny’s home. 
62.     Later in the film, when Tracy begins her campaign for student president, Mr. M becomes obsessed with her.
63.     Mr. M is shown in bed thinking about Tracy, which prompts him to watch a pornographic film showing a high school cheerleader having sex while watching the pornography, Mr. M is hearing Tracy’s voice.
64.     During one of the sex scenes with Mr. M and his wife, Tracy’s face is superimposed on his wife’s head, screaming sexually explicit words.
65.     Plaintiff was appalled by the film and watched it with a number of her friends to see what their reactions would be.
66.     Plaintiff was in disbelief, as were her friends, that Mr. Mendolia would recommend “Election” to her.
67.     Plaintiff did not mention “Election” to Mr. Mendolia afterwards because she was too embarrassed by its explicit sexual content.
68.     Though she did not follow up on his suggestion, in April, 2008, Mr. Mendolia’s conduct became more overtly sexual.
69.     There were numerous instances several weeks after Mr. Mendolia told Plaintiff to watch “Election” that made her extremely uncomfortable.
70.     Plaintiff’s friend, XXXXXX was an art student taking photography class the same semester.  Plaintiff and XXXXXXX took Driver’s Education Program together. 
71.     XXXXXXX often used Plaintiff as a subject in her photographs and had been assigned to model photographs in the style of Annie Liebovitz.
72.     XXXXXXXX took several photographs of Plaintiff that were tasteful but somewhat erotic.
73.     In or about early April, one of the other students was driving, and XXXXXX and Plaintiff were in the back seat. 
74.     XXXXXXX mentioned that she had the photographs and Plaintiff asked to see them and she and Plaintiff were looking at the photographs privately, behind a binder.
75.     Mr. Mendolia reached around from the front passenger seat, while the car was being driven by a student, and forcefully grabbed several of the photos out of XXXXXXX’s hand.
76.     XXXXXXXX told Mr. Mendolia, “I don’t think you should look at those.”
77.     Mr. Mendolia ignored her and examined the photographs anyway, while the car was still being driven by a student.
78.     Mr. Mendolia commented, “These are a little … risqué.”
79.     Mr. Mendolia handed the photographs back to XXXXXXX when he was done carefully inspecting them.
80.     On a separate occasion, in or about mid-April 2008, while she was driving, Mr. Mendolia told Plaintiff that she had “interesting ears.”
81.     Mr. Mendolia then reached over to Plaintiff, slowly brushed her hair back, and massaged Plaintiff’s right ear, describing her earlobe as not attached but not quire detached, either.
82.     XXXXXXX witnessed this conduct and that afternoon she told her father about Mr. Mendolia touching Plaintiff’s ear.
83.     Another day, in or about mid-April, 2008, while Plaintiff was driving, she expressed to Mr. Mendolia that she was having trouble accelerating.
84.     Instead of demonstrating in any number of appropriate ways how one’s foot should touch the gas pedal, Mr. Mendolia placed his hand high on Plaintiff’s upper thigh, pressed down, and moved it back and forth for a couple of seconds.
85.     Plaintiff physically jumped in her seat at Mr. Mendolia’s inappropriate and sexually suggestive touch.
86.     Plaintiff did not say anything to him.
87.     Mr. Mendolia touched Plaintiff in a skillful manner, out of the view of the other passengers, while they were engaged in conversation.
88.     Later in the spring of 2008, in or about mid-April, while Plaintiff was driving, Mr. Mendolia lightly slapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. 
89.     Again, this occurred while the other passengers were not listening, as they were talking amongst themselves.
90.     Mr. Mendolia then said, “I made ice cream.” 
91.     Plaintiff replied, “Excuse me?”  Mr. Mendolia said, “You don’t get it?”  Plaintiff said, “No, I don’t.”
92.     Mr. Mendolia then, with a smirk, clarified: “It’s supposed to be, ‘I made YOU scream.’  Do you like that?”  Plaintiff did not answer him.
93.     Plaintiff never told her parents about the incidents in the Driver’s Education Program car with Mr. Mendolia until after she graduated, for fear they would become irate and call the Principal. 
95.     Plaintiff did, however, tell YYYYYYY about Mr. Mendolia’s conduct.     
96.     Plaintiff did not know if YYYYYYY reported what she told him, and she made no mention of it afterwards.
97.     Fernando Sicilia was Plaintiff’s music teacher during her freshman year at ST. FRANCIS PREP, 2005-2006.
98.     Mr. Sicilia immediately took a liking to Plaintiff because they were both Cuban.
99.     Though Plaintiff did not have Mr. Sicilia in class after her freshman year, they maintained a friendly relationship during her sophomore and junior years.
100.   During Plaintiff’s junior year, she had several free periods in her schedule and every so often, she would stop in the music department to visit Mr. Sicilia, whom she trusted at the time.
101.   Towards the end of her junior year, in or about May, 2008, Mr. Sicilia told Plaintiff that he was leaving ST. FRANCIS PREP by choice, which she later found out was false.
102.   Mr. Sicilia, upon information and belief, was told to leave at the end of the 2007-2008 school year for inappropriate conduct.
103.   At the time, Plaintiff did not know Mr. Sicilia was told to leave.
104.   Plaintiff spent more time with Mr. Sicilia than usual in May 2008 because he was leaving.
105.   Plaintiff and Mr. Sicilia exchanged phone numbers, as Mr. Sicilia did with many students, under the guise of keeping in touch after his departure.
106.   Plaintiff did not know that Mr. Sicilia’s intentions were insidious. 
107.   In May of 2008, Mr. Sicilia sent Plaintiff several text messages inviting her to dinner and asking her if she was ok because he was aware of her problems at home.
108.   During Plaintiff’s last visit with Mr. Sicilia on one of her free periods, at the end of May 2008, Mr. Sicilia hugged her and told her, “You smell so good.” 
109.   Mr. Sicilia told Plaintiff that she was beautiful and expressed to her that he couldn’t stay faithful to his wife.
110.   Mr. Sicilia then told her the following: “I go to a place where people are very open with their bodies … we would love to have you.”
111.   “There’s no age limit.”
112.   “I would really love for you to join us.”
113.   Plaintiff left the classroom and immediately reported Mr. Sicilia’s sexually suggestive comments to YYYYYYYY.  YYYYYYYY became enraged.
114.   He said, “I would like to swing that guy around by his ponytail.”
116.   Plaintiff does not know if YYYYYYY reported her complaint about Mr. Sicilia.


117.   Plaintiff repeats and realleges each of the allegations contained in paragraphs “1” through “116” herein, as if each said allegation has been set forth at length.
118.   At all material times, prior to the sexual harassment of Plaintiff at ST. FRANCIS PREP., numerous other ST. FRANCIS PREP students and children had previously been sexually harassed on or near ST. FRANCIS PREP’s campus by Mendolia and Sicilia.
          119.   At all material times, prior to the sexual harassment of the Plaintiff by Mendolia and Sicilia, numerous other ST. FRANCIS PREP students and children had previously been sexually harassed on or near ST. FRANCIS PREP’s campus by Mendolia and Sicilia.
          120.   Many of the aforesaid prior sexual harassment incidents of students and children by Mendolia and Sicilia were reported to (or observed by) ST. FRANCIS PREP administrators, including BROTHER LEONARD CONWAY (the Principal) and PATRICK McLAUGHLIN (then the Assistant Principal).
          121.   Upon information and belief, many of the aforesaid prior sexual harassment incidents of students by Mendolia and Sicilia were reported to ST. FRANCIS PREP administrators, including BROTHER LEONARD CONWAY and PATRICK McLAUGHLIN.  These sexual harassment complaints against Mendolia and Sicilia, upon information and belief, were made to various ST. FRANCIS PREP administrators (including BROTHER LEONARD CONWAY and PATRICK McLAUGHLIN), throughout Sicilia’s tenure as a ST. FRANCIS PREP faculty member, and throughout Mendolia’s tenure as a teacher and administrator at ST. FRANCIS PREP.
          122.   At all material times, ST. FRANCIS PREP, and their administrators, including BROTHER LEONARD CONWAY, PATRICK McLAUGHLIN, and others, failed to disclose any of Mendolia’s or Sicilia’s sexual harassment, or their knowledge that Mendolia and Sicilia both had a propensity to sexually harass girls, to the Plaintiff, students, parents, former students, alumni, prospective students (and their parents), or law enforcement officials.
          123.   At all material times, ST. FRANCIS PREP, and their administrators, including BROTHER LEONARD CONWAY and PATRICK McLAUGHLIN, failed to disclose their knowledge of Mendolia’s and Sicilia’s sexual harassment, or their knowledge that Mendolia and Sicilia both had a propensity to sexually harass girls, to the Plaintiff, students, parents, former students, prospective students (and their parents), or law enforcement officials.
          124.   Accurate information on sexual harassment on campus committed by ST. FRANCIS PREP administrators and/or faculty members would have had an impact on the decisions of those children—such as Plaintiff—who were prospective ST. FRANCIS PREP students to apply for admission and enroll as students at ST. FRANCIS PREP; and, likewise, would have had an impact on the decisions of those children—such as Plaintiff—who were then current ST. FRANCIS PREP students to continue their education at ST. FRANCIS PREP.
          125.   At all material times, Defendants ST. FRANCIS PREP, and their various administrators, including but not limited to BROTHER LEONARD CONWAY and PATRICK McLAUGHLIN, and others, intended to and did misrepresent the safety of ST. FRANCIS PREP, school environment at ST. FRANCIS PREP and its campus, and the trustworthiness of Mendolia and Sicilia, at various school events and in various school publications, in order to induce students (including Plaintiff) to enroll, or continue their education, at ST. FRANCIS PREP (and enroll in the ST. FRANCIS PREP Driver Education program).
          126.   Plaintiff justifiably relied on the aforesaid ST. FRANCIS PREP misrepresentations of campus safety, faculty fitness and trustworthiness, and nurturing school environment, when decided to enroll at ST. FRANCIS PREP and continue her education at ST. FRANCIS PREP.
          127.   Plaintiff was injured, and suffered severe emotional distress, pursuant to her aforesaid sexual harassment, as a result of Defendants’ fraudulent misrepresentations and deceptions, and the Plaintiff likewise suffered significant pecuniary losses (i.e. incurred substantial expenses for psychological treatment and counseling and incurred fees for her Driver Education Program) as a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ aforesaid fraudulent conduct.
          128.   The fact that the instrumentality which produced Plaintiff’s injuries was the wrongful conduct of Mendolia and Sicilia does not preclude a finding of proximate cause against the ST. FRANCIS PREP Defendants because the intervening agency - the sexual harassment committed against Plaintiff by Mendolia and Sicilia - were themselves foreseeable hazards. 
          129.   The aforesaid misrepresentations of ST. FRANCIS PREP to Plaintiff about campus safety, the school environment, and faculty trustworthiness, were the legal cause of the pecuniary loses incurred by Plaintiffs (i.e., expenses for psychological treatment and counseling and Driver Education Program fees) because all of those losses were within the foreseeable risk of harm created by Defendants.
          130.   Each of Plaintiff’s parents, likewise, relied on the Defendants’ aforesaid misrepresentations regarding campus safety, school environment, and faculty trustworthiness and acted on said reliance by enrolling or keeping their daughter at ST. FRANCIS PREP, and/or refrained from acting on said reliance by not enrolling their daughter in another school or withdrawing their daughter from ST. FRANCIS PREP and sending her to another school.
          131.   Plaintiff’s parents’ reliance on the Defendants’ aforesaid misrepresentations thus resulted in the aforesaid injuries to the Plaintiff.  (In New York, the doctrine of third-party reliance operates as an exception to the normal justifiable reliance element of common law fraud).
          132.   Under CPLR § 213(8), claims of fraud must be brought within two years of the time the Plaintiff discovered or could have discovered the fraud, or within six years of the time the fraud was committed, whichever is later.  As Plaintiff suffered her alleged injuries in or after April 2008, this Complaint is timely.
          133.   Defendants’ conduct was willful, wanton, reckless, and malicious, evinces a high degree of moral turpitude, and demonstrates such wanton dishonesty and willful disregard of Defendants’ civil obligations as to give rise to punitive damages.
134.   As and for Count I, Plaintiff herein thus claims compensatory damages against the Defendants in a sum to be determined at trial, punitive damages in a sum to be determined at trial, and reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses incurred in the prosecution of these claims. 
Well, that's the bulk of it! It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. I'm not much of a gambler, but for many reasons, I would bet on the plaintiff. 


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