Greenberg Gross Partner Brian Williams announced a seven-figure settlement with the Santa Ana Unified School District on behalf of his client, Tenisha Steen, who was sexually abused by a former teacher, Gary Satrappe. Steen, now in her 50s, filed a lawsuit against the district alleging that it failed to protect her from the abuse when she was a student at Valley High School in the early 1980s.
Steen’s lawsuit details how her teacher began grooming her for sexual abuse in 1983 when she was in 10th grade. The sexual abuse escalated from unwanted hugs and kisses to sexual intercourse at various locations, including motels, where Satrappe would provide her with alcohol. As a result of the repeated sexual assaults, Steen became pregnant. The school principal at the time learned of the relationship but did not take any action or report it to the police.
After Steen had the baby, the principal and another school employee threatened her with jail time and having her child taken away if she revealed that Satrappe was the father. The principal, who has since died, was criticized by Steen’s attorneys for valuing the school’s reputation over the safety of its students. Steen was told that no one would believe her because of Satrappe’s status as a well-respected teacher in the community.
Steen agreed to keep quiet initially, but later filed a civil lawsuit against Satrappe, resulting in a four-day trial in 1990. A jury awarded her $275,000, finding that the teacher’s relationship with his student was “vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched or loathsome.” That prior lawsuit was only filed against Satrappe, allowing Greenberg Gross to pursue a case against the District itself.
After going through some difficult years following the assaults, Steen now has a career, a family, and is working on a book about her experiences to help other survivors. The settlement with the Santa Ana Unified School District is seen as a crucial step in Steen’s long journey to heal. The California Child Victims Act, which recently ended as of 12/31/2022, allowed lawsuits in childhood sexual assault cases that were previously barred by the statute of limitations. Similar laws have been passed in New York, New Jersey, and many other states.. These laws are a powerful tool for survivors to hold predators and institutions accountable, and end the cycle of childhood sexual abuse.
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- Santa Ana Unified pays seven figures to settle 38-year-old sexual abuse case
September 29, 2021 | OC Register