PHILADELPHIA – A private Catholic school in Lower Gwynedd Township, its operators and sponsors are now facing a major negligence lawsuit from the parents of a seventh-grade female student who was allegedly sexually molested multiple times by one of the school’s now-former (and convicted) IT workers both on and off-campus.
Jill and John Doe (parents and legal guardian of minor, Jane Doe) filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on March 1 versus Gwynedd-Mercy Academy Elementary School and Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Mid-Atlantic Community, Inc., both of Merion Station, in addition to Mercy Education System of the Americas, of Silver Spring, Md.
The complaint details a history of events of leading up to the molestation, which begins with GMA Elementary hiring Marcus Forte to work in the school’s Information Technology department. The lawsuit charges the school with knowing or that it should have known about Forte’s prior illegal misconduct, as he was once arrested for stalking a teenage girl in Schuylkill County.
With Jane Doe’s parents having separated in January 2015, the suit explains Forte befriended Doe shortly after his arrival to the school and used the circumstances of her parents’ separation to gain Doe’s trust, in order to groom her and molest her.
The suit details Forte’s on-campus molestation of Doe beginning in October 2015, including summoning her to his office and locking the door, having her sit on his lap, kissing her, hugging her and touching her buttocks in the school hallways.
In February 2016, the defendants fired Forte for using his position in the IT department to view confidential information – but allegedly did nothing to notify the plaintiffs of Forte’s inappropriate conduct with their daughter Doe, which led to Forte and Doe continuing contact after his termination from the school.
The suit explains in April 2016, while Doe was home sick from school, Forte took her to a Starbucks coffee shop when her mother was not home. After they returned to Doe's home, Forte sexually assaulted Doe, fondling her breasts and pinning her down on the couch. Doe eventually freed herself and went into the kitchen, where Forte initially gave chase and attempted to force himself on her again, before leaving the home. At that point, law enforcement became involved.
On Sept. 21, 2017, Forte was found guilty of three criminal counts of indecent assault for his molestation of Doe, in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Forte is not named as a defendant in the instant civil complaint.
Due to Forte’s criminal molestation, the suit says Doe has suffered psychological injuries, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, emotional trauma and mental anguish.
The lawsuit levels a long list of negligence-related charges at the school defendants, including but far from limited to: Failing to provide an environment safe from sexual abuse to Doe, failing to use due care in supervising Forte’s interactions with Doe, failing to conduct a thorough interview and background check of Forte and failing to properly monitor the school property.
For counts of generalized negligence, negligent supervision, negligent hiring and retention, premises liability negligence and vicarious liability negligence, the plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of the local arbitration rules, exclusive of pre-judgment interest, costs and damages for pre-judgment delay and such other legal and equitable relief as the Court deems appropriate, in addition to a trial by jury.
The plaintiffs are represented by Thomas R. Kline and David K. Inscho of Kline & Specter, in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 180203107
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org