A jury in Hennepin County District Court began hearing arguments this week in a lawsuit against Children’s Theatre Company arising from its 1970s-80s sex abuse scandal.
Laura Stearns, a former student at CTC, sued the Minneapolis theater and Jason McLean, who was an actor and instructor there. The suit alleges that she was the target of “harmful, offensive and unpermitted sexual contact” by McLean and that CTC officials failed to adequately supervise him.
The alleged abuse occurred in 1983 when she was 15 and McLean was in his late 20s.
In a statement, CTC said it tried to reach a settlement but Stearns opted to go to trial.
“We believe her story, and we believe Mr. McLean should be judged and held accountable for his actions,” the theater said, adding: “This abuse happened at McLean’s house … We will offer our belief that the theater did not know of McLean’s actions, was not responsible for his actions, and was not negligent in its conduct.”
Stearns’ suit was the first of at least eight filed in 2015 and 2016 by ex-students against CTC or its former employees after the Minnesota Child Victims Act extended the statute of limitations on abuse cases.
McLean, who is a defendant in five of the suits, could not be reached for comment. The former CTC instructor reportedly fled to Mexico in 2017 after selling his Twin Cities properties, the Varsity Theater and the Loring Pasta Bar. In November 2017 a Hennepin County judge issued a $2.5 million summary judgment against him in one of the lawsuits.
Stearns’ attorney, Jeff Anderson, said he expects that the trial will continue through the end of the month, and that she will testify.
“This is an important moment for Laura and the survivors who stand with her to tell their truth … and exercise the power they have now that they didn’t have as children,” he said.