Ramsey County has agreed to improve sexual harassment training and institute policies that better protect underage employees, after a teenage lifeguard was raped by an adult supervisor while on the job.
Following an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the county will pay the victim $72,500 in a formal settlement of the 2013 assault case. Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero, standing with Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo, announced the settlement Thursday.
The 16-year-old lifeguard reported the assault to two supervisors soon after the attack, but it wasn't until the teen reported the assault to a third manager in 2014 — insisting that the sex was nonconsensual — that county officials finally responded.
Lucero said her office also is filing suit against West Lutheran High School in Plymouth for failing to protect a female student as male students sexually harassed and assaulted her. School administrators retaliated against the girl and asked her to leave the school, Lucero said.
West Lutheran, according to its website, is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and moved to its 6-acre campus in Plymouth in 1996. School officials did not return a call Thursday for comment.
While the two cases are separate, Lucero said both represent violations of the state Human Rights Act involving underage victims.
"They are part of a pattern and practice of pervasive sexual assault and harassment in our culture," Lucero said. "They both involved individuals in positions of authority who failed to act."
MatasCastillo said that the county's initial inaction in the 2013 assault case was "unacceptable."
"Ramsey County is committed to doing better and has already implemented policy changes to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again," she said.
As of June 30, all Ramsey County employees from elected commissioners on down have completed sexual-harassment training. The county has established a formal policy forbidding intimate relationships between supervisors and employees under the age of 18, and supervisors can't be alone at work or in vehicles with underage employees.
Employees who know of any violation of these policies are obligated to report them and cooperate with ensuing investigations. Failure to follow the new rules may result in discipline up to termination.
According to the settlement and a statement released by the Human Rights Department, the adult supervisor used his position of authority to trap the 16-year-old lifeguard. He scheduled the teen to work even though most beaches were closed, and assaulted her at a closed beach.
He then drove her in a county vehicle to a store to buy Plan B contraception pills, which are used after unprotected sex.
The girl told two supervisors what happened in 2013, but they didn't act on the report. She told a third supervisor the following year, and the adult supervisor was terminated. He later pleaded guilty to criminal charges, Lucero said.
"I can only imagine how [the teenage victim] felt in that scary moment," said MatasCastillo, a sexual-assault survivor who was raped while serving in the military.
"We must send a message that sexual assault cannot be ignored and cannot be tolerated," she said. "As a survivor of sexual assault by a co-worker, I know all too well how devastating it is to know that your superiors will not take assault seriously."