Pierce County school district, Seattle Archdiocese settle child sex abuse lawsuit

The Franklin Pierce School District and Seattle Archdiocese agreed to pay $2.45 million to a former student who says he was abused by a teacher in the 1980s. The Archdiocese allegedly helped the teacher get hired at a public school.
The Franklin Pierce School District and Seattle Archdiocese agreed to pay $2.45 million to a former student who says he was abused by a teacher in the 1980s. The Archdiocese allegedly helped the teacher get hired at a public school. Getty Images

A former Parkland Elementary student who says he was sexually assaulted by a teacher there in the 1980s has settled a lawsuit against the Franklin Pierce School District and the Seattle Archdiocese.

Franklin Pierce agreed to pay $950,000 to the alleged victim, identified in court records as D.W. The Archdioceses agreed to pay $1.5 million.

The complaint accused the Archdiocese of helping teacher Edward Courtney get hired in the public school system, despite the fact that he’d been accused of sexually abusing students at multiple Catholic schools where he worked before Parkland.

“Courtney then used his position at Parkland Elementary to gain access to Plaintiff D.W. and to sexually abuse him multiple times in multiple locations, including at Parkland Elementary and other activities that Courtney arranged through his position at the school,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2016 and was set to go to trial March 12.

Both the school district and the Archdiocese had reports that Courtney was sexually abusing students, and neither reported him to police, the complaint alleged.

Courtney was part of the Christian Brothers religious order and was one of the 77 priests, brothers, deacons and one nun who the Seattle Archdiocese named in 2016 as being accused of child sex abuse.

D.W. alleged Courtney was removed from six schools for child abuse before he started teaching sixth grade at Parkland — which was part of the Franklin Pierce district but has since closed.

“We are disappointed that the actions of an employee who was terminated in 1982 had repercussions on students in our district 36 years ago and are working to minimize the financial impact of the settlement on our current students,” the district said in a statement Tuesday. “We have split the settlement payment to span two budget years to reduce the settlement’s effect on our academic programs.”

The statement also said that district employees now get a thorough background check before they’re hired and that the district follows county protocols for investigating child abuse.

The Archdiocese of Seattle also performs background checks on employees who work with children unsupervised, according to a statement from the Archdioscese.

That release also stated that Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain “hopes the $1.5 million settlement will bring closure and assist the survivor in his healing process.”

Courtney was transferred among schools where he worked as a brother and allegedly abused children in Illinois, Michigan and Washington in the 1960s and 1970s, according to court records.

Among them was Seattle’s O’Dea High School, after which he was hired as the principal at St. Alphonsus Parish School. He was forced to resign from St. Alphonsus in 1981, following further allegations.

“At the time, the Archdiocese of Seattle had no information to indicate Courtney had a prior history of sexually abusing students,” the Archdiocese’s statement said. “And due to the nature of the allegation, Courtney’s supervisor did not think the incident met the standard for notifying law enforcement and did not report it as abuse.”

A letter written by the pastor of St. Alphonsus showed that the church had Courtney resign, instead of firing him, to protect Courtney’s “name and reputation and that of the school,” according to a statement from D.W.’s attorneys, Michael Pfau and Jason Amala.

It was after St. Alphonsus that Courtney started working in the public school system and was hired at Parkland.

The Archdiocese allegedly helped with that by writing letters of recommendation and verifying his teaching certificate.

Once Courtney was at the public school, Franklin Pierce had multiple reports that he was abusing Parkland students, Pfau and Amala said, including a letter a student wrote the principal at the time.

“D.W. alleged that the principal allowed Courtney to remain at the school, which enabled him to continue abusing D.W. and other students,” the attorneys’ statement said.

Their firm has represented more than 30 of Courtney’s alleged victims.

This is the second time a former Parkland student has sued the Archdiocese and accused Courtney of sexual abuse.

The church agreed to pay $1.3 million last year to the other victim, M.R. His suit also accused the Archdiocese of helping Courtney get hired in the public school system. It did not name Franklin Pierce.

Courtney was not criminally charged for abusing M.R. or D.W., who came forward in recent years, after the statute of limitations had expired.

He did plead guilty to indecent liberties with a minor in 1988 in the central Washington city of Othello after public school officials there reported him to police.

Courtney would be in his 80s now. He signed a sales document notarized in Honolulu in 2013 when he sold his Seattle-area home, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The News Tribune wasn’t able to contact him Tuesday.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell