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Trial Set in Lawsuit Against Westport Schools

WESTPORT, Conn. – A four-year-old lawsuit will go to trial this month as a former Staples High School student who says she was sexually assaulted by her English teacher in 2003 sues Westport Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, the Board of Education and a former Staples High School principal for negligence.

The trial is set to begin March 20, said Bridgeport-based attorney Cindy Robinson, who is representing the former student. A motion filed by the board's attorney to dismiss the case was denied by Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis on Wednesday.

Robinson said the board, Landon and then-principal John Brady failed to protect the plaintiff by not taking appropriate action against Peter Eramo when complaints were logged against him. Eramo, the former English teacher, is also named in the lawsuit.

“They failed to monitor and supervise a teacher they knew had a history of inappropriate behavior, and who was targeting the plaintiff at the time,” Robinson said Friday in a phone interview.

In 2006, the unnamed student said that in May 2003, when she was 17, Eramo had sex with her. According to court documents, the student testified that Eramo invited her to a jazz club in New York City, where they drank alcohol. Later that evening, she said Eramo took her back to his Milford apartment and had sex with her.

Eramo was found not guilty of second-degree sexual assault in 2009. Robinson says the incident, which she said caused her client “immeasurable” emotional harm, might have been prevented had the administration properly disciplined Eramo after a series of complaints were made against him leading up to the alleged assault.

Eramo began teaching at Staples in September 2001. Court documents show that two months later, Eramo was written up for being aggressive toward a supervisor. In May 2002, Eramo and a fellow English teacher who he had been dating had an argument about their sexual relationship in front of students. Gerald Kuroghlian, another teacher at Staples who testified he witnessed the argument, said it was about oral sex. Eramo received a written warning as a result.

In February 2003, a freshman girl accused Eramo of sexual harassment. The student said Eramo pulled her ponytail, winked at her during an exam and bumped her shoulder with his elbow. Although his actions were found inappropriate, school officials did not find they constituted sexual harassment.

Later that month, school officials decided not to rehire Eramo for the following school year. They allowed Eramo to submit a letter of resignation, which allowed him to stay through the end of the school year.

“Before he left in June, he targeted the plaintiff,” Robinson said. “Her mom actually complained in April the he was sending her inappropriate emails, asking her daughter to go out with him. The administration said basically that Eramo was on their radar, and that it was under control. But they did nothing. There was no investigation; nothing was done to protect the plaintiff.”

Eramo was terminated June 17, 2003, after he admitted to rumors that he had let two female students stay overnight at his apartment one night the month before, court records show.

This lawsuit was filed in May 2008. Last September, school officials filed a motion to dismiss, stating, among other reasons, they were not liable for Eramo’s alleged actions.

Landon could not be reached for comment Friday. Thomas Gerarde, a Hartford-based attorney representing the Board of Education in this suit, also could not be reached.

Regarding the trial, to be held in Bridgeport, Robinson said she has faith that justice will prevail.

“I feel confident we’ll be able tell her story and show that the Board of Education really didn’t follow its own rules and policies in supervising this teacher,” she said. “The rest will be left to the jury, and I have full confidence in the jury system.”

Read about the lawsuit/Judge Barbara Bellis' decision on the school board's motion below:

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