By Maria Papadopoulos
Enterprise staff writer
Posted Feb 12, 2010 @ 02:53 AM
Last update Feb 12, 2010 @ 10:34 AM
BROCKTON — It began with a 6-year-old city boy touching a girl in his class, and it ended up costing the city $50,000 in legal fees – plus thousands more in city insurance payouts totaling nearly a quarter-million dollars.
The elementary school student, accused of sexually harassing a classmate as a first-grader in 2006, will receive a total of about $160,000 in a legal settlement reached with the city. His parents received $20,000.
The boy, then 6, was suspended from the Downey Elementary School for three days after school officials accused him of sexually harassing a classmate. The principal said he had violated sexual harassment policy by touching a female classmate inside her clothing waistband during a class.
The case garnered international media attention, becoming the subject of talk shows and Internet discussion forums across the country.
Settlement documents and legal records obtained recently by The Enterprise show that the city spent $50,000 on legal defense fees to the Boston law firm Peabody & Arnold, which represented the city in the case.
Then, insurance kicked in. The city’s insurance carrier, AIG, paid out $240,000 in legal fees and settlements. The payments included:
The parents of the boy, Berthena and Phillip Dorinvil, were awarded $20,000.
The boy will receive a “guaranteed lump sum” of $132,003.76 on Oct. 25, 2017, plus four annual payments of $7,000 each in the years before then, settlement papers show.
Their attorney, John Pavlos, was paid $60,000 for his legal fees.
The case illustrates the importance of school officials setting up the proper protocols to handle these types of situations in city classrooms, Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy said.
“It was not handled properly, and we’re paying the price,” said Brophy.
When reached at her home Thursday, the boy’s mother, Berthena Dorinvil, briefly recounted what her family went through in the case.
“The situation wasn’t a good experience,” Dorinvil said.
When asked about her son, now 10, who was later transferred to another school at his parents’ request, she said, “He’s doing great.”
Dorinvil declined to comment on the settlement, referring those questions to Pavlos, her attorney in the case.
When contacted about the settlement, Pavlos , the family’s attorney, said he could not discuss it.
“It was (settled) to the satisfaction of my clients,” Pavlos said Thursday. “My clients were satisfied, and that’s why they entered into the agreement.”
The incident occurred on Jan. 30, 2006. In an interview with The Enterprise at that time, Berthena Dorinvil said the principal called her to pick up her son and told her the boy had been sitting behind the girl on the carpet in a classroom with a teacher and about 20 students present.
The girl complained to the teacher about the boy touching her.
Dorinvil said the principal told her that her son had put two fingers inside the waistband of the girl’s pants and touched her skin.
“She said to me, ‘That’s sexual harassment,’” Dorinvil said at the time. The school suspended the boy for three days.
After The Enterprise reported on the case, the story went worldwide and a media debate erupted over whether a child that age can sexually harass someone.
Later, the school department revised its policy on sexual harassment among students.
The boy’s family sued the city in 2007. Defendants in the complaint included then-Mayor James E. Harrington, then-School Superintendent Basan Nembirkow, then-Deputy Superintendent Anthony Luizzi, Downey School Principal Diane Gosselin and the entire School Committee at the time.
The city settled the case in August 2008.
As part of the settlement, the city agreed that the superintendent would authorize in-service training for Brockton elementary school principals, city records obtained by The Enterprise show.
Doing so would “familiarize them with the revised student sexual harassment policy, especially as it applies to allegations involving children under the age of 7, and to sensitize principals on how to handle complaints of sexual harassment,” according to the settlement agreement.
After suspending the boy, the principal also contacted the school police, the state Department of Social Services and Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz’s office.
Charges were not brought because state juvenile criminal laws do not apply to those younger than 7, Assistant District Attorney Bridget Norton Middleton said at the time.
According to city records, Harrington, the former mayor, made a personal apology to the boy’s parents during a Dec. 5, 2006, meeting at City Hall.
School, district attorney and state social-service records on the case were erased as part of the settlement.
On Thursday, School Superintendent Matthew Malone declined comment on the case, saying he wasn’t leading the district at the time of the boy’s suspension or the settlement.
Mayor Linda Balzotti, who also serves as School Committee chairwoman, said she hopes officials can learn from the case, take corrective measures and move forward.
“That is a significant amount of money,” said Balzotti, who was a city councilor but not on the School Committee at the time of boy’s suspension or settlement.
“From these experiences you try to learn something so that it won’t occur again,” the mayor said.
As part of the settlement agreement between the city and the boy’s family, legal documents show:
The school superintendent would erase all school department records of the boy engaging in sexually harassment or other inappropriate behavior on Jan. 30, 2006.
The superintendent would notify the district attorney’s office and the state Department of Social Services in writing to erase any reports alleging the boy engaged in inappropriate or illegal behavior on Jan. 30, 2006.
Diane Gosselin, still the Downey School principal, would provide a “personal, private letter of regret” to the family for applying the sexual harassment policy to the Jan. 30, 2006 situation.
The superintendent would authorize in-service training on sexual harassment policy for Brockton elementary school principals, especially as it applies to children under age 7.
photo:Berthena Dorinvil of Brockton, the parent of a first-grader who was accused of sexual harassment by school officials, leaves a Brockton Superior Court courtroom with her attorney, John Pavlos, in March 2006, after a civil case hearing.
Click to view image: 'fafc5fe11126-g12c0004dbbf90797716bea3ef69309a5edce06f19780d2.jpg'
Tags: sexual harassment, elementary school, child, first-grader
Location: Brockton, Massachusetts, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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