Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers – Part 2

A federal appeals court ruled that a school was not legally responsible for the sexual molestation of a minor by a school teacher in his own home.

Church Law and Tax2003-07-01

Sexual misconduct by clergy, lay employees, and volunteers – Part 2

Key point 10-09.2.Some courts have found churches not liable on the basis of negligent supervision for a worker’s acts of child molestation on the ground that the church exercised reasonable care in the supervision of the victim and of its own programs and activities.
Negligence as a Basis for Liability

* A federal appeals court ruled that a school was not legally responsible for the sexual molestation of a minor by a school teacher in his own home. A minister also served as a volunteer at a middle school. While working at the school he became acquainted with a 12-year-old girl (Sarah) and her mother. Sarah’s mother asked the minister if her daughter could live with him and his family, and the minister agreed. The minister sexually molested Sarah in his home on numerous occasions, and was prosecuted and convicted of various crimes and sentenced to prison. Sarah’s mother sued the school, claiming that it was responsible for the minister’s acts on the basis of negligent supervision. In particular, the mother alleged that the school was negligent in failing to supervise or train the minister in fulfilling his duties as a volunteer. In support of her lawsuit the mother noted that the school principal had received complaints about inappropriate sexual comments made by the minister to students off of school premises at a non-school event. A federal appeals court dismissed the case. It noted that the minister’s crimes “occurred in his own home and in circumstances unrelated to his role as a school volunteer.” With regard to the offensive remarks the minister made, the court noted that “there were no complaints of offensive contact or sexual abuse at any time, and certainly not in relation to his role in the schools. Such an isolated incident, moreover, was unrelated to [the minister’s] role as a school volunteer.” S.J. v. Kansas City Public School District, 294 F.3d 1025 (8th Cir. 2002).

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