Marin County jury awards $10 million to survivor of Tamalpais High School sexual abuse
A Marin County jury ruled that the Tamalpais Union High School District was 100 percent negligent for the 2003 sexual abuse of a then-high school student by its then PE teacher and tennis coach Normandie Burgos (Marin County Superior Court, Case# CIV2001133). It awarded the student $10 million.
The student, Alexander Harrison, is now 36 years old.
His lawsuit against the Tamalpais Union High School District was filed in March 2020 by the San Jose-based law firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard under the auspices of AB 218, which extends the statute of limitations to allow older child sexual abuse cases to be filed through December 2022.
Mr. Harrison is deeply thankful to the jury and felt the verdict was emotionally healing.
“After having been so hurt by so many in my own community siding against me when I first reported Burgos’ sexual abuse, this jury’s recognition of the wrong that Burgos and the school district did to me has an impact on me that is beyond words and will allow me to finally move forward.”
Mr. Harrison hopes this verdict will impact schools, so that they always put kids’ safety first when there is sexual misconduct by an educator.
“I want this verdict to change how schools respond to these abusive situations – too many educators have inappropriately touched students yet they’ve been permitted to continue teaching, while student complaints were kept secret,” Mr. Harrison said. “The jury spoke loud and clear that schools need to better protect the students in their care.
Attorney Mark Boskovich said the verdict was a long time coming.
“Police told school officials about Burgos’s sexual misconduct in late 2002, when a wrestler complained that Burgos had touched his genitals during a body fat test,” Mr. Boskovich said. “The district mishandled that complaint and continued to provide Burgos with unsupervised access to students by concealing the complaint from key school employees.”
The jury agreed.
Some of the trial testimony focused on a pledge by then- Tamalpais High School Principal Chris Holleran to develop protocols for body fat testing. But Holleran didn’t follow through, with a school district expert testifying that Holleran’s lack of action was not within the established standards of care.
“If the district had a zero-tolerance policy regarding teacher sexual abuse, Burgos would have been outed in 2002 and Mr. Harrison’s abuse would have stopped,” attorney Robert Allard said. “But the district buried its head in the sand.”
Students, meantime, continued to complain about Burgos’ abuse until he was arrested in August 2006, when Mr. Harrison came forward. The trial ended in a hung jury in favor of conviction.
The Tamalpais Union High School District finally fired Burgos in 2008 and he lost his California teaching credential. So, Burgos opened a tennis clinic, where he continued to sexually molest children.
“Burgos is truly a dangerous serial predator who harmed many children,” Mr. Allard said. “For example, Mr. Harrison suffered a loss of self-worth and 20 years later he still has trouble trusting people. But he’s become a warrior who is fighting to protect other children from abusers.”
Burgos was finally brought to justice in 2019, when he was criminally convicted of 60 counts of sexual abuse. He is now serving a 255-year prison sentence.
About Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard
The attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard have a national reputation and a proven record of helping survivors and their families recover from childhood sexual abuse. The firm’s $65 million jury verdict in a sexual abuse case against a public school is believed to be the largest single plaintiff verdict ever in California and the United States.
To learn more about the Harrison case, read the New York Times article.