The Children's Theatre Company announced Tuesday it recently settled a seventh lawsuit over sexual abuse at the theater decades ago.
The terms of the settlement are confidential in the case brought by a plaintiff who was sexually abused by former actor Jason McLean in the 1980s, according to court documents. The case was set for trial Oct. 21; that is now canceled.
"It's another positive step in the right direction," Molly Burke, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in cases against the theater, said on Tuesday. "There's still work to be done."
Since 2015, 17 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the Children's Theatre Company or McLean over sexual abuse at the theater in the 1970s and 1980s, lawsuits brought under the Minnesota Child Victims Act. Eight cases remain against the theater, and no other trials are scheduled at this point.
McLean, a former teacher who was never criminally charged, hasn't retained an attorney and didn't appear in court; he reportedly fled to Mexico in 2017 after selling his Twin Cities properties, the Varsity Theater and the Loring Pasta Bar.
But the plaintiff in the latest settlement, who requested anonymity to protect her privacy, told the Star Tribune that, while her case is over, it was a painful process that was often stalled and "did not honor the spirit of the law that is in place to assist victims of trauma; nor the process of restoration."
"The callous and calculated way they legally made their way through the process left me with more pain than I began with," she said in a statement. "I think they handled the process badly. I felt I had little way to turn, if any. I hope they treat the other victims better."
The Star Tribune generally doesn't name victims of sexual assault.
On Tuesday, the theater said in a statement to the community that it is "working tirelessly towards settlements for all the survivors."
Last month, the theater announced it had settled six cases. Earlier this year, plaintiff Laura Stearns' case was the first — and so far, the only — case to go to trial.
The jury found the theater had been negligent but wasn't liable for damages. It returned a $3.68 million verdict against McLean, Stearns' former teacher whom she accused of rape in the 1980s. Another case also yielded a judgment against McLean.
A dispute over the theater seeking legal fees in Stearns' case spurred a public boycott and weekly protests of the theater. The theater later apologized and dropped its request for the fees from Stearns.
The Children's Theatre, a nonprofit that receives most of the revenue for its $13.5 million budget from tickets, grants and contributions, has been dogged by controversy since the scandal. Playwright John Clark Donahue, who co-founded the company and died earlier this year, pleaded guilty in the 1980s to molesting three boys and admitted to abusing and raping several boys.
The theater recently established a survivor's fund and is launching a speaker's series related to survivor support and child-abuse prevention later this year. The theater is also hosting a forum from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 16 to discuss ways the CTC can promote "community healing and begin the critical work of rebuilding." Those interested in participating should e-mail email@example.com.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141