Sex abuse victim reaches $2.4 million settlement with archdiocese, school district

KOMO News file photo

SEATTLE - A man who was sexually abused as a child has reached a $2.45 million settlement with the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and the Franklin Pierce School District.

The man, whose name was not publicly released, alleged in a lawsuit that he was sexually abused in the early 1980s by former teacher Edward Courtney at Parkland Elementary, a now-closed grade school in the Tacoma area.

The $2.45 million settlement was reached just before the case was scheduled to go to trial Monday in King County Superior Court. It is believed to be one of the largest settlements involving the Catholic Church in Western Washington, said the victim's attorney, Michael Pfau.

Under terms of the settlement, the Seattle Archdiocese will pay $1.5 million and the Franklin Pierce School District will pay $950,000. Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said he hopes the settlement will bring closure and assist the victim in his healing process.

The lawsuit claims that the Seattle Archdiocese knew Courtney had abused students in its private school system before he began teaching in the public school system, yet failed to report him to authorities even though state laws required them to do so. Instead, the lawsuit claims, the archdiocese helped Courtney get a teaching job in the public schools.

The archdiocese says Courtney previously had taught at O'Dea High School and later was hired as principal of St. Alphonsus School. He was forced to resign from that position in 1981 after a report of inappropriate behavior. At the time, the archdiocese says it had no information to indicate Courtney had a prior history of sexually abusing students.

But according to court records, Courtney abused multiple students while a teacher at O’Dea and was eventually terminated from the school because of abuse allegations.

The lawsuit says that the Franklin Pierce School District was also at fault because it received multiple reports that Courtney was abusing students at Parkland but failed to remove Courtney from the school or report him to law enforcement.

The school district issued a statement Tuesday saying that Courtney was terminated in 1982, two years after he was hired as a teacher.

"We are disappointed that the actions of an employee ... had repercussions on students in our district 36 years ago and are working to minimize the financial impact of the settlement on our current students," the statement said. "We have split the settlement payment to span two budget years to reduce the settlement’s effect on our academic programs."

The district also said it takes students' safety and well-being seriously and has instituted programs to prevent sexual or physical abuse of children.

Pfau said his firm has represented more than 30 victims of Courtney in settlements totaling about $17 million. He says there are likely more victims of Courtney in both the Catholic and public school systems.

Archbishop Sartain said in a statement that he "deeply regrets the harm done to the victim in every case of child sexual abuse."

He said the archdiocese has now implemented a program requiring criminal background checks on all employees and volunteers who have unsupervised contact with children, along with reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to law enforcement.

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