A confidential settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by a woman who alleged her former English teacher at a Hancock Park all- girls school sexually abused and impregnated her, but her case will proceed against another Southland school where the educator previously worked, court papers obtained Wednesday show.
The plaintiff, 32-year-old former Marlborough School student Chelsea Burkett, previously came forward during an interview on ABC’s “Nightline” in April and said she wished to be named in all court documents.
The settlement applies to the part of Burkett’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed in April 2015 against Marlborough School, which she alleged knew of past allegations of sexual misconduct by teacher Joseph Thomas Koetters, but failed to investigate them.
Her case will continue against Viewpoint School in Calabasas, where she alleges Koetters “sexually groomed” a female student at Viewpoint, where he worked prior to Marlborough.
The plaintiff’s lawyers say in court papers that they learned during the pretrial exchange of information between the parties on the Burkett- Marlborough allegations that the administration at Viewpoint fired Joseph Koetters for inappropriate conduct with students at that private co-educational campus, but still gave him a “glowing recommendation” before he was hired at Marlborough.
Koetters was dubbed “creepy Koetters” because of his alleged inappropriate behavior with girls at Viewpoint, according to Burkett’s court papers, which state: “Such conduct by the very people entrusted with the care of young children is nothing short of deplorable.”
In their court papers, Viewpoint School attorneys say the administration was only aware of two incidents involving Koetters, one in which he allegedly put a hand on a female student’s shoulders and another in which he was accused of tripping a male pupil while they were running together.
In the “Nightline” interview that aired April 11, Burkett discussed being the victim of childhood sexual abuse.
Now in her 30s, she alleged in her lawsuit that Koetters had a relationship with her at Marlborough School from 2000-02, beginning when she was 16 years old. Burkett said Koetters impregnated her in 2002 and that she later had a miscarriage.
She alleged that she did not realize Koetters caused her psychological harm until 2014, when she read an online essay written by another female who claimed she also was sexually harassed by the teacher.
Burkett’s case is consolidated with that filed by another woman who also alleges Koetters sexually abused her when she was 16 years old, during the 2003-04 school year. That plaintiff continues to be referred to as Jane Doe in her court papers. Her allegations against both schools are still ongoing and a hearing is scheduled Thursday before Judge Michael Linfield.
Koetters was arrested in February 2015. The Santa Monica resident was sentenced to a year in county jail in October 2015 for engaging in sex acts with both women.
Koetters was charged with 14 sex abuse counts and had faced up to 11 years behind bars, but in a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to four counts. As part of his sentence, Koetters was required to register as a sex offender and complete at least one year of sex offender therapy and he was placed on five years of probation, during which he is barred from teaching or being with any female minor under the age of 18, except his daughter.
Burkett told the judge at the teacher’s plea and sentencing hearing that Koetters — then her 11th grade English teacher at Marlborough — “systematically lured me into a yearlong sexual relationship.”
“Over the course of several months, Mr. Koetters succeeded in convincing me that I was different, that our bond was special, that we owed it to ourselves as humans to ignore society’s norms and take things to the next level,” she said.
The relationship eventually “imploded,” and she found out she was pregnant in a dirty restroom at a fast-food restaurant. She said she ultimately miscarried, “alone, terrified and in excruciating pain,” and the relationship ended, leaving her shattered and with an “intense hatred for myself that haunts me to this day.”
She said she had “never planned to come forward with my story,” but seeing the essay written about Koetters “triggered in me an unrelenting drive to protect other girls at all costs.”
“I would be remiss if I tried to frame the situation as anything other than what it is for me. It is raw. It is hideous. It is agonizing. And I will live with it for the rest of my life,” she told the judge.