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Seattle Archdiocese Pays $1.3 Million Settle Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

March 24, 2016

(Seattle) — The Seattle Archdiocese has paid $1.3 million to settle the claim of a man who alleges he was sexually abused in the early 1980s by Edward Courtney, a former teacher and principal at two schools in the Archdiocese’s private school system.

The plaintiff, identified as “M.R.” in court pleadings in order to protect his identity, alleged he was abused by Courtney between 1981 and 1982. At the time, M.R. was a student at Parkland Elementary, a public grade school outside of Tacoma, and Courtney was his teacher.

In his lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court, M.R. claimed the Seattle Archdiocese was liable for the abuse he suffered because it allegedly knew Courtney posed a danger to students after he was removed from two Archdiocesan schools for abusing children. Rather than report Courtney to law enforcement, M.R. alleged the Archdiocese covered-up Courtney’s abuse of children and helped him obtain employment in the public school system.

M.R. alleged Courtney served as a teacher, coach, and administrator at O’Dea High School from 1974 to 1978. During that time period, M.R. claimed the Archdiocese received multiple complaints that Courtney was abusing children. For example, shortly after arriving at O’Dea, M.R. alleged the school principal, the school vice principal, and a teacher met to discuss an allegation that Courtney had molested a student. When asked why he did not warn students or parents about Courtney, M.R.’s lawsuit claims the former teacher testified “it wasn’t my job to warn the people about Ed Courtney.”

Rather than report Courtney to the authorities, M.R. alleged the Archdiocese helped Courtney obtain his master’s in teaching administration and then hired him as the principal of St. Alphonsus Parish School, a grade school in the Ballard area of Seattle. M.R. claims that Courtney abused at least a half-dozen children at St. Alphonsus, and that he had to resign after just one year because of abuse allegations. M.R. claims the pastor responded in a letter that he decided to accept Courtney’s resignation after consulting with the superintendent of the Archdiocese’s private school system and the Archdiocese’s in-house lawyer: “To alter that course would be to run the very real risk of turning this situation into a cause célèbre thereby doing damage to your name and reputation and that of the school.

M.R. alleged the Archdiocese should have reported Courtney to the authorities and taken steps to revoke his Washington state teaching certificate. Instead, he claims the Archdiocese verified Courtney’s teaching certificate, which allowed him to continue teaching, and wrote him glowing letters of recommendation.

According to M.R.’s complaint, the very next school year Courtney was hired as a teacher at Parkland Elementary, a now-closed grade school outside of Tacoma. M.R. claimed that Courtney used his position as a teacher at Parkland to groom him and to sexually abuse him.

M.R. is not the only former student to allege he was abused at Parkland Elementary. While M.R.’s case was pending, another student, identified as D.W., came forward and claimed that he was abused during some of the same time period as M.R. In court papers, D.W. testified that he and his mother complained to the Parkland principal and that Courtney was fired a short time later. D.W. has filed his own pending lawsuit against the Archdiocese.

M.R. wants other abuse survivors to know that they are not alone: “I had no clue about Courtney’s history until I did a Google search for his name. I want other abuse survivors to know that they are not alone, and there are ways they can try to get answers. This process has been healing for me and for the first time in my life I feel like I am starting to get closure.”

M.R. was represented by Michael T. Pfau and Jason P. Amala of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC. According to Amala, the Archdiocese’s efforts to help Courtney continue teaching is uncommon: “Our law firm has represented hundreds of abuse survivors, but I cannot think of another case where the defendant removed a known abuser from their private school system and then actively helped them get a job in the public school system.”

Amala believes M.R.’s case is a reminder that people should keep an open mind when abuse survivors come forward: “I think most people would be skeptical if you told them that a pastor, a superintendent, and an in-house lawyer all agreed to keep child abuse quiet in order to protect a school’s reputation. But there it is, spelled-out in documents that we were able to obtain because M.R. and other abuse survivors had the courage to come forward. This case is a good reminder why people should keep an open mind and let the legal process uncover the truth.”

Pfau believes there are likely more Courtney survivors in the public school system: “Courtney was a prolific abuser of children in private Catholic schools, but I would be surprised if there were not more victims in the public school system. They had no idea what they were dealing with.”

News coverage

  • The News Tribune: Archdiocese helped sexual abuser teach in Pierce County public school, suits allege
  • KING 5: Seattle Archdiocese pays $1.3M to settle sex abuse case