First published in the July 22 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
A jury last week rejected the claims of two women who alleged they suffered emotional distress from being sexually abused by a track coach while they were students at South Pasadena High School nearly a decade ago.The Alhambra Superior Court panel on Wednesday found in favor of the South Pasadena Unified School District in the suit brought in March 2016, alleging negligence and sexual harassment. Both plaintiffs were minors at the time they said they were abused by then-track coach Pierre Jonas Hernandez.The lawsuit was seeking $6.25 million for each of the women, with about $3 million for past trauma and the remainder to cover possible future mental and emotional distress.SPHS Principal Janet Anderson had an obligation to monitor Hernandez and protect all students, the suit stated, but district lawyers maintained that the SPUSD was not responsible or liable for the former coach’s conduct with the girls.Hernandez passed a criminal background check when he was hired and after the girls came forward with their allegations, he was placed on administrative leave in April 2015 and never returned as a coach, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.Hernandez began molesting one of the plaintiffs in April 2013 and some of the incidents took place on campus, including in a locker room where he inappropriately touched her, according to the suit.The plaintiff later began to experience emotional difficulties from being molested and later realized her mental problems were caused by Hernandez’s conduct, the suit alleged.Hernandez began abusing the second plaintiff in April 2014, and some of the misconduct also took place at the high school, according to the suit, the suit alleged.During one on-campus encounter, Hernandez “insisted that he give Jane Doe a full body massage in an underground boys’ locker room with nobody else around,” the suit alleged.The second plaintiff also suffered emotional harm, according to the complaint.But, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers, other students received massages from other coaches and did not find them improper.While the district condones proper massages, it does not approve of the “intrusive and inappropriate massages Hernandez gave to plaintiffs in secluded areas,” according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.Hernandez, 33 at the time the lawsuit was filed, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of child molestation and sexual battery involving one of the plaintiffs, who was 16 years old when she was abused.Alhambra Superior Court Judge Jon Takasugi sentenced Hernandez in September 2015 to 180 days in jail — with service by electronic monitoring — along with five years of probation and ordered him to register as a sex offender for life. Hernandez was a track coach at SPHS for about seven years.After the verdict, the school district released the following statement:
“The South Pasadena Unified School District prioritizes the safety and well-being of our students as we provide a safe learning environment for all. We regret that an incident took place between a former coach and two students. The verdict in the recent civil case supports the district’s conviction that all policies and procedures were properly followed and that school administrators took immediate and appropriate action.”
Mark Kellam contributed to this story.