On the eve of a civil court trial, the Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to pay $5 million to a young woman who was sexually abused as a teen by a middle school teacher, it was reported Tuesday.
Attorneys for the woman, who is now 20, say the payout is the largest single-victim settlement by the country’s second-largest school district, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The girl was 13 when Elkis Hermida, a math teacher at Thomas Edison Middle School on Hooper Avenue in unincorporated Florence-Firestone near South Los Angeles, began grooming her, according to a civil suit filed in 2012 by the student. Hermida went on to molest the girl for seven months in his classroom and near the campus, incidents for which the educator pleaded no contest and was sentenced to prison for three years.
Attorneys for the school district fought the lawsuit and accused the girl, who was in eighth grade during the abuse, of consenting to the activity. Keith Wyatt, LAUSD’s outside counsel, said Hermida used no physical force or threat in performing the sex acts, arguing that the girl “consented” to having sex with her teacher, who was 30 at the time.
An appeals court, however, overturned the 2013 jury verdict, saying Superior Court Judge Lawrence Cho never should have allowed such evidence to be presented and ordered a new trial.
The landmark case prompted California lawmakers in 2015 to abolish the so-called minor’s “consent” as a defense in abuse cases and set the standards for what is acceptable evidence and argument in childhood sexual abuse cases.
“She was abused in the classroom and victimized a second time in the courtroom,” John Taylor, one of the woman’s attorneys, said in remarks reported by The Times. “Her courage and persistence will make it easier for other abuse victims to pursue their claims without fear of being blamed for the abuse.”
Taylor said the settlement was reached Friday, three days before a new trial was slated to begin, The Times reported.
It’s just the latest in some very large settlements paid out by LAUSD to victims of sexual abuse.