MONROE (WWJ) – A 16-year-old high school honor student in Monroe was repeatedly sexually harassed by her band instructor and classmates after reporting an inappropriate incident, according to a lawsuit.
The complaint, filed Tuesday in federal court, alleges that Jefferson High School administrators allowed the band teacher, Brian Sullivan, to create a sexually harassing and violent environment. The lawsuit also alleges that Sullivan inappropriately touched female students or requested that the female students inappropriately touched him during class.
The complaint further states that Sullivan was violent with students, punching and kicking equipment in the room when he was angry, and would talk about his personal life and describe the physical characteristics of the women he dated. The complaint explains how any of the girls who didn’t “play ball” were retaliated against, including the 16-year-old, identified in the lawsuit as BML.
Craig Haugen, superintendent of Jefferson Schools, on Wednesday issued the following statement about the case:
“Jefferson Schools received notice that a complaint against the district has been filed in Federal Court. The district has referred the matter to legal counsel and will vigorously defend its position. Since this is a matter of litigation we cannot provide further information at this time. The safety and well-being of all of our students at Jefferson Schools is our top priority and we will do all we can to ensure that a safe, supportive learning environment is maintained at all times for all students.”
Click here to see the full complaint (.pdf format)
The lawsuit was filed after one incident in which Sullivan apparently duct-taped a female student’s legs to her chair because she was crossing them at the ankles, something he forbade. BML reported the incident to school officials and was then retaliated against, according to the lawsuit.
“It is hard to grasp that the band teacher would retaliate against B.M.L., when she was standing up to a fellow student who was being duct-taped by the teacher and create an environment where she was ultimately bullied and harassed by the band teacher and her fellow students,” Attorney Michael Dorfman said in a statement. “She didn’t deserve to be chased away out of the school.”
According to the lawsuit, Sullivan, who is in his late 20s or early 30s, allegedly used his physical appearance and authority as a teacher to sexually harass, intimidate, manipulate and prey upon the female students in his classes and school bands. He allegedly flirted with female students, the lawsuit states, often asking the girls to run their fingers through his hair. The lawsuit further alleges that Sullivan would brag in detail to his students about his social life and dates, and would often be seen alone in his office with female students.
At the beginning of BML’s sophomore year, she noticed that Sullivan had amped up the sexual innuendo during class and was meeting more of her female classmates alone in his office, the lawsuit states.
On March 24, 2014, with 20 minutes left in the class, Sullivan apparently initiated a conversation about a Disney World trip that band members were taking in April to play at the Magic Kingdom. Sullivan suddenly stopped the discussion, and in front of the entire class, ordered a female student, identified as MR, to uncross her legs, the lawsuit states.
Sullivan allegedly has a rule that while playing their instruments, students were not to cross their legs. Even though the class was having a discussion and not playing instruments, Sullivan still demanded the girl uncross her legs, the lawsuit states, which she immediately did. He then walked into his office, grabbed a roll of duct tape and kneeled down in front of the female student, according to the lawsuit.
“Sullivan placed both of his hands on M.R.’s inner thighs and plied M.R.’s legs apart as she sat, so her left ankle would be touching the left front leg of the chair and her right ankle would be touching the front right leg of the chair,” the lawsuit states.
Sullivan then “started applying the duct tape at M.R.’s ankle, and began to work his way up to her knee and then back down,” the lawsuit states, before repeating the process on her other leg. The girl started crying.
A student moved closed to the teacher and got out his cell phone to record the incident, according to the lawsuit, but Sullivan stopped and allegedly warned the class “I don’t want anyone to record this or tell anyone because I’ll get in trouble.” He then went back to the front of the class and continued the Disney World discussion as if nothing had happened, the lawsuit states.
Other students finally came to MR’s aid and helped free her from the chair. “Sullivan never attempted to help M.R. out of the duct tape, humiliating her further by leaving her duct taped and immobile in the front of the room,” the lawsuit states.
After class, BML went to the principal’s office to file a report and was given a blank form to fill out. She went to her next class where other band members “watched intently as she filled out the incident report,” the lawsuit states. After class, she turned the report in and was told the incident was being taken care of.
The next day, rumors began circulating that Sullivan was suspended. A day after that, students wanting to defend Sullivan began ridiculing BML for filing the report, according to the lawsuit. The torment by other students then reached social media, with many leaving nasty messages on BML’s Facebook page, and even creating their own Facebook pages in support of Sullivan, the lawsuit states.
“A senior student named K.L. wrote a post on Facebook where she threatened to beat B.M.L. up in the parking lot after school for ‘telling on Sully,'” the lawsuit states. BML’s mother said she notified administrators that night about the threat of physical violence via email.
Four days after reporting the incident, BML was in band class where a new substitute teacher was leading instruction. “Students R.C. and T.C. were making comments along the line of ‘If you aren’t with us, you’re against us.’ They were attempting to rally the class against B.M.L. while the substitute watched in amusement,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states that the substitute teacher allowed the students to believe their actions and comments towards BML were permissible, and they ramped up their behaviors.
On April 2, the day Sullivan returned to the classroom, BML and her mother had a meeting with administrators, who agreed to remove the teen from the band program immediately. Instead of going to band class, during that hour she was to sit in a room in the office.
The next day, BML stopped going to her assigned lunch hour and instead started eating her lunches in the office to avoid ridicule and torment by her classmates, the lawsuit states.
“B.M.L. also began walking the longer way to her classes and avoided walking anywhere near the band room at all costs,” the lawsuit states. She also missed out on the trip to Disney World because Sullivan was chaperoning.
On April 17, the rumors started back up again and the name-calling got worse, the lawsuit states, “It was as if the students were re-energized in Florida to continue their verbal assaults on B.M.L.”
Sullivan was not to have contact with BML, yet on several occasions from April through June, he would allegedly come in to the office stare at the teen, making uncomfortable comments. The teen never reported these incidents however, because she “believed it would put a bigger target on her back to be harassed because word always managed to get out somehow,” the lawsuit states.
“The administration made it evident that they did not want to be bothered by B.M.L. or her family, and that the sexual harassment claims and the bullying claims were a mere nuisance,” according to the lawsuit.
On June 4, BML was required to attend the seniors’ graduation ceremony as a member of the student council. That day, when she was in the library, Sullivan allegedly walked by her, looked her up and down and said she looked “very nice in your dress.” Sullivan would not stop sexually harassing BML and was rather flippant about it, the lawsuit states.
Due to the months of verbal abuse, torment by classmates and stress of being retaliated against, BML’s mother took her to a doctor and she was placed on an anti-anxiety medication. She has since disenrolled from Jefferson High School and is attending school elsewhere.
“She loved school, and one of the last things she liked doing, was being taken away from her all because Sullivan couldn’t keep his hands off of a student,” the lawsuit states.
On July 9, Principal Dave Vensel sent a letter to parents of band members informing them that Sullivan would be taking a leave of absence from Jefferson Schools for the 2014-2015 school year to “complete graduate work at Eastern Michigan University.”
It’s unclear if Sullivan has a lawyer. He has not yet commented on the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.