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Employees settle with Utah school district and supervisors over alleged sexual harassment

First Published      Last Updated Mar 16 2017 09:06 pm

Courts » Man at center of allegations remains a defendant.

Eight female employees who sued the Iron County School District in federal court, claiming they were subjected to years of sexual harassment, have reached a $340,000 settlement with the state.

Beyond the financial aspect of the settlement, it requires the school district to hold annual sexual harassment training for employees and administrators, said attorney Peter Stirba, who represents the women.

"They were concerned all along with corrective changes and behavior within the district," Stirba said Thursday of the women. "It's in place now, and it's a great credit to them that it is in place."

The women — six teachers, a teacher's aide and an office secretary — last year filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the school district, Cedar Middle School Principal Kendall Benson, Assistant Principal Trent Nielsen, and the man at the center of the allegations — Samuel Naim El-Halta.




The settlement includes district, Benson and Nielsen, but El-Halta remains a defendant.

El-Halta, now 41, counseled 7th and 8th graders at the middle school, where he began working in 2007, and held a supervisory position over the women.

According to the lawsuit, El-Halta talked to the women about their looks and attire — comments that became increasingly inappropriate and escalated to outright requests for sexual favors at least once to each plaintiff.

When the women reported the behavior to Benson and Nielsen, the administrators would tell them they were overreacting or would laugh it off, or comment, "That's just Sam being Sam," the lawsuit states.

The administrators also suggested the women were "asking for it" by the clothing they wore, the lawsuit states.

They would, at most, tell El-Halta to stop, the lawsuit states, but never investigated the complaints, disciplined the counselor or stopped the harassment.

Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney said Thursday, "The case was satisfactorily resolved."

She said Benson had retired, while Nielsen remained employed as assistant principal at Cedar Middle School.

Stirba said the women, who all have retained their jobs, showed "tremendous courage in saying, enough is enough."

El-Halta was fired in November 2014 after Cedar City police learned he had accessed porn while on school grounds.

In February 2015, he was charged in Cedar City's 5th District Court with seven counts of sexual battery for his behavior toward the women, and 10 counts of accessing pornography while on school property, all class A misdemeanors.

He pleaded guilty in January 2016 to seven counts of sexual battery and two counts of accessing pornography on school property, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

shunt@sltrib.com

 

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