Former Steilacoom student files lawsuit alleging math teacher sexually harassed her

A student who recently graduated from Steilacoom High School has filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming her math teacher sexually harassed her and the district failed to report the incident to law enforcement as required by law.

The incident took place in the fall of 2018 in teacher Eric Garrett’s classroom when he allegedly knelt close to the girl and started rubbing her shoulders.

“Mr. Garrett then slid his right hand up under her skirt. He squeezed the child’s unclothed inner thigh (right next to her genitalia), all the while saying ‘Good job,’” according to the suit. “K.S. went into shock. She literally could not move.”

The 19-year-old woman is identified only by her initials in the lawsuit, which was filed July 23 in Pierce County Superior Court.

She is seeking financial reimbursement for her counseling and wants to see Garrett disciplined, said her attorney, Thomas Balerud.

In its response filed Monday, Steilacoom School District admitted an internal investigation found Garrett likely placed his hand on the girl’s thigh but said it was “in a non-sexual fashion,” which is why the district did not report it to law enforcement.

“The District denies that defendant Eric Garrett sexually abused and sexually harassed Plaintiff during class,” district attorneys Angela Marshlain and Lauren Johnston wrote in their response.

They asked for the case to be dismissed.

Garrett was disciplined after the student’s allegation was sustained, according to court documents, but district officials did not specify how.

Susanne Beauchaine, executive director of Human Resources, said the district cannot comment on pending litigation. The district declined to say how many years Garrett has worked in Steilacoom or whether other students have filed complaints against the teacher.

Female classmates cautioned the student about Garrett after learning she was placed in class, advising her not to wear revealing clothing, the suit says.

Garrett allegedly singled her out, offering free candy and rubbing her shoulders.

Her distress and discomfort with the situation caused her grades to drop, which resulted in a parent-teacher conference with the student’s mother. At that meeting, Garrett allegedly said the girl would benefit from “extra help” and provided his personal cell phone.

The girl reported the inappropriate touching to school officials, who investigated her complaint. The district noted in its court filing that the girl declined to be interviewed by school officials about the incident.

Balerud, the student’s attorney, said Garrett sliding his hand up the girl’s skirt and squeezing was sexual assault and the district was negligent not to report it.

“That constituted a credible complaint of child sexual assault and the school district is a mandatory reporter,” Balerud told The News Tribune. “And for some reason they chose to investigate it internally and put the onus on the victim for not cooperating with the investigation when she wanted to cooperate with the appropriate police department.”

He said school officials did not protect the girl from Garrett, and instead told her she could change school districts or attend online classes.

Garrett, who is being sued in both his official and personal capacity, has denied the allegation.

This story was originally published on The News Tribune.