United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MATTHEW A. THOMAS, JR., KRISTINE THOMAS, and MATTHEW A. THOMAS, Plaintiffs,
TOWN OF CHELMSFORD, CHELMSFORD SCHOOL COMMITTEE, FRANK TIANO, SCOTT MOREAU, BRUCE RICH, CHARLES CALIRI, JEFFERY DOHERTY, ANTHONY SIRAGUSA, MICHELLE KENDER, BENJAMIN COLE, and MICHAEL MOEs 1-4, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
B. Saris Chief United States District Judge
suit alleges that the Chelmsford public school system and its
employees failed to take sufficient steps to protect a
student from a sexual assault at a school-sponsored varsity
football camp and from subsequent bullying and harassment by
teachers and other students at Chelmsford High School
(“CHS”). The individual defendants and the
municipal defendants move separately to dismiss.
Court ALLOWS in part and DENIES in part the
motions to dismiss (Docket Nos. 28, 30).
plaintiffs are Matthew A. Thomas, Jr.
(“Matthew”), his father (“Mr.
Thomas”), and his mother (“Mrs. Thomas”).
municipal defendants are the Town of Chelmsford
(“Town”) and the Chelmsford School Committee
(“CSC”). The individual defendants are Frank
Tiano, the former Superintendent of Chelmsford Public Schools
(“CPS”); Charles Caliri, the former Principal of
CHS; Jeffery Doherty, the former Dean of CHS; Scott Moreau,
the athletic director (“A.D.”) of CHS; Bruce
Rich, the former head coach of the football team at CHS; and
Anthony Siragusa, Michelle Kender, and Benjamin Cole,
teachers at CHS.
all reasonable inferences are drawn in the plaintiffs'
favor, the complaint alleges the following facts, many of
which are disputed.
The Sports Culture
years, CHS embraced a sports culture that put winning ahead
of everything else and encouraged bullying and harassment of
student-athletes to make them “tough enough” to
win championships. First Amended Complaint
(“Compl.”) ¶ 17. The Town, the CSC, and
Superintendent Tiano knew about and condoned this
“winning” sports culture, in which ordinary rules
did not apply to star athletes. Id.
September 2012, Matthew enrolled as a freshman at CHS.
Id. ¶ 30. Matthew was a special-needs student
with an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”)
under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”). Id. In October 2012, during
freshman football, three students -- K.M., G.C., and E.S. --
forced another student to urinate in Matthew's cleats.
Id. ¶ 32. The Thomas family reported the
incident to A.D. Moreau, and the three students were
suspended for one game. Id. ¶ 34.
The Rape at Football Camp
August 21 to 24, 2013, CHS held its annual football camp at
Camp Robindel in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. Id.
¶ 39. The students stayed in bunkhouses with no regular
adult supervision, despite CHS having knowledge of hazing and
bullying that took place at past football camps. Id.
¶¶ 19, 20, 24, 40. In the bunkhouse, Matthew was
hit in the face with powder, and the video recording was
posted to social media. Id. ¶ 42. Matthew had
his food, iPod, and cellphone stolen. Id.
¶¶ 42, 44. Matthew was pelted with milk and
repeatedly picked up by his underwear while others laughed.
Id. ¶ 42.
reported the stolen iPod to Coach Rich, who took no action.
Id. ¶ 43. Matthew reported the stolen cellphone
to a coach, who came into the bunkroom and demanded,
“Who took the phone?” Id. ¶ 44.
K.M. returned the cellphone and was not disciplined.
August 23, 2013, Matthew was on his bunk when Z.D. came over
to him, held him down, and started twisting his nipples.
Id. ¶ 46. K.M. joined in and lifted
Matthew's feet so that he could not move. Id.
G.C. grabbed Matthew by his arms and legs, and they dragged
him into the shower area. Id. G.C. and Z.D. held
Matthew down while K.M. tried to insert the end of a
broomstick into Matthew's anus. Id. Matthew
screamed and resisted, but nobody came to his assistance.
Id. Then, K.M. and Z.D. held down Matthew while G.C.
inserted the end of the broomstick into Matthew's anus.
Id. ¶ 47. No adult was nearby during this
approximately twenty-minute episode. Id. ¶ 49.
that day, another student threw Matthew's cellphone to
K.M., who rubbed the cellphone on his testicles and threw it
back to Matthew. Id. ¶ 50. K.M. then came over
to Matthew, placed his knee on Matthew's chest, exposed
his genitalia, and rubbed his testicles on Matthew's
evening, Matthew told his parents about some of his problems
at camp. Id. ¶ 51. Mr. Thomas started driving
out to Camp Robindel, but Coach Rich called him and told him
that he wanted the opportunity to handle the issues himself.
Id. Mr. Thomas agreed. Id. When Coach Rich
raised the issue with the students, K.M. yelled at Matthew
and called him a “liar.” Id. ¶ 52.
Coach Rich told K.M. to just apologize, which K.M. did.
August 24, 2013, Coach Rich told Mr. Thomas that the issues
were taken care of. Id. ¶ 53. Coach Rich also
told Mr. Thomas that K.M. was one of his “special
players” who needed to remain on the team because
sports helped keep him out of trouble. Id.
night, Matthew told his parents about the broomstick
incident. Id. ¶ 55. On August 25, 2013, Mrs.
Thomas emailed Coach Rich to demand that he investigate.
Id. ¶ 57. In the email, Mrs. Thomas told Coach
Rich that if the issue was not adequately resolved by noon
the next day, she would report to the police, the CSC, and
Superintendent Tiano. Id. Later that night, Mrs.
Thomas spoke with Coach Rich, who apologized. Id.
morning of August 26, 2013, Mrs. Thomas forwarded her
previous day's email to A.D. Moreau and stated that she
would report to the police, the CSC, and Superintendent Tiano
if she did not hear from him or Coach Rich by noon.
Id. ¶ 59. That morning, A.D. Moreau called Mrs.
Thomas and stated that CHS would look into the incident but
that he did not want it reported to the police. Id.
¶ 60. His words were: “Don't go to the police.
You need to give us more time.” Id. The Thomas
family agreed. Id.
afternoon, while the Thomas family was waiting for a meeting
with A.D. Moreau, Coach Rich came by and told Matthew,
“You will get through this. We will get through this.
This is part of growing up.” Id. ¶ 61.
The Thomas family then met with CHS Deans Jeffery Doherty,
Joshua Blagg, and Heather Galante. Id. ¶ 63.
The Thomas family explained to the Deans what had happened to
Matthew. Id. The Deans instructed the Thomas family
not to speak to anyone about the matter. Id. The
Deans did not explain how they would handle the situation
other than to say the perpetrators would not be in any of
Matthew's classes. Id. CHS did not report the
incident to the police. Id. ¶ 64.
August 27, 2013, the Thomas family reported the Camp Robindel
incident to the police. Id. ¶ 66. The Middlesex
District Attorney's Office contacted the Moultonborough
Police Department and started an investigation. Id.
August 28, 2013, CPS took written statements from two of the
students involved in the Camp Robindel incident. Id.
¶ 68. One of them wrote that Matthew was lying about
everything. Id. The other admitted that he hit
Matthew with a broomstick around “his butt/back of
thigh” but he “didn't see that it had left a
mark.” Id. He wrote, “I am not proud of
what I did, but I am also not sorry for what I did to Matt.
Thinking back on it I was teaching him a lesson.”
August 30, 2013, Deans Doherty, Blagg, and Galante produced a
“Summary Report” on the school's internal
investigation into the Camp Robindel incident. Id.
¶ 74. This report allegedly “whitewashed”
the incident by failing to describe the details of the
broomstick incident, how Matthew came to be lying prone on
the floor of the bathroom, and why there was no adult
supervision. Id. ¶ 75.
Post-Incident Bullying and Harassment
this time, other CHS students began to hear about the camp
incident. Id. ¶ 71. Students began to make
comments about how Matthew was lying and started to call him
“Broomstick, ” in reference to the assault.
Id. ¶¶ 71, 73. Comments on the Camp
Robindel incident also began to appear on social media.
E.g., id. ¶ 77 (“What's up
with high school boys sticking stuff up each other's
asses these days?”)
September 3, 2013, Mrs. Thomas contacted Principal Caliri to
ask how Matthew would be protected at school. Id.
¶ 79. Principal Caliri did not provide any answers.
September 4, 2013, Matthew went to school and learned that
K.M. was registered in two of his classes. Id.
¶ 80. Although K.M. was not in school, Matthew was
present in both classes as K.M.'s name was called.
Id. The Thomas family demanded that K.M. be
students at school continued to make derogatory sexual
comments to Matthew about the Camp Robindel incident, and
social media postings about the incident continued.
E.g., Id. ¶¶ 81 (“Hey
Broomstick! How is your asshole? Did it hurt?”), 83
(“You are so annoying you got a pole shoved up your ass
at football camp.”), 88 (“Matt Thomas went to
camp a tight end and came back a wide receiver.”), 108
(“Hey look, is that the kid that got fucked by the
broomstick?”), 120 (students said that they heard that
Matthew was raped with a “big black dildo” and
asked Matthew if he “liked it and if he wanted it
again”). Much of the bullying came from lacrosse
players, wrestlers, and football players. Id. ¶
131. Students also made threats of violence against Matthew.
Id. ¶¶ 151, 159. The Thomas family
reported these incidents to Dean Doherty throughout the
school year but each time, Dean Doherty took no action and
did not follow up with the family. Id. ¶¶
81, 82, 83, 104, 108, 120, 152, 160. On one occasion, Dean
Doherty told Matthew that Matthew should report incidents to
him, not to his mother. Id. ¶ 81.
first media report on the Camp Robindel incident appeared on
September 9, 2013. Id. ¶ 85. An unidentified
source told the newspaper that the allegations were of
“a very juvenile nature” although some aspects
were “sexual in nature.” Id. Later that
day, Superintendent Tiano emailed the members of the CSC to
inform them of the media coverage and to say that CPS did a
“tremendous job” in its internal investigation.
Id. ¶ 86. He also promised to keep the CSC
updated on the criminal investigation. Id.
Superintendent Tiano also issued a press release that stated
that CPD “will continue to take seriously the safety of
each and every student under our care.” Id.
morning of September 10, 2013, media outlets appeared at CHS.
Id. ¶ 89. Nobody from CPS informed the Thomas
family about the media's presence, and Matthew arrived at
school wearing a CHS football shirt. Id. Principal
Caliri announced that the media would not approach any
student on school grounds and that no student had to speak
with the media. Id. ¶ 91. Nobody from CHS spoke
to Matthew about the media or offered to help him avoid the
media. Id. That afternoon, a reporter approached
Matthew as he exited CHS alone. Id. ¶ 92.
Matthew declined to discuss the Camp Robindel incident and
walked away, but the reporter followed him and continued to
ask him questions. Id. The Thomas family reported
the incident to Dean Doherty and asked how the media was at
the CHS entrance. Id. ¶ 93. Dean Doherty
responded, “They were not supposed to be. I guess no
one was watching.” Id.
evening, the CSC had its first meeting since the media broke
the story about the Camp Robindel incident. Id.
¶ 94. A prepared press release was read, and the CSC
made no further comments. Id. This was the only time
the CSC addressed the allegations during the 2013 to 2014
school year, despite individual members of the CSC being
informed at various points in the year about the difficulties
that Matthew was having at school. Id. ¶ 94,
September 11, 2013, Matthew was interviewed by the Middlesex
District Attorney's Office. Id. ¶ 96.
Police investigators had trouble interviewing CPS personnel,
however, because they were uncooperative with the
investigation. Id. ¶ 97. For example, the
Moltonborough Police Department tried to set up an interview
date but was told that CPS personnel would be at an away
football game. Id. In fact, those particular CPS
personnel were not at the game. Id.
Alleged Misconduct by Teachers and Administrators
September 12, 2013, Mrs. Thomas met with Dean Doherty.
Id. ¶ 98. K.M., G.C., and Z.D. had been
suspended for ten days and were soon expected to return to
school, and the Thomas family was worried about Matthew's
safety. Id. Dean Doherty assured Mrs. Thomas that
CHS would ensure Matthew's safety. Id. The
Thomas family also met with Superintendent Tiano to discuss
how Matthew would be protected. Id. ¶ 100.
Superintendent Tiano told Mr. Thomas: “We have teachers
in the hallway that monitor things and he will be
fine.” Id. The Thomas family asked that K.M.,
G.C., and Z.D. be assigned to the CHS annex, a separate
learning area away from the general student body where
problematic students are assigned. Id. ¶ 101.
That request was not granted. Id. In a September 13,
2013 follow-up email, Dean Doherty told Mrs. Thomas that
Matthew could leave class at any time to speak with him and
that “I will be in the hallways discreetly checking on
him, so if something is not going well he can give a slight
shake of his head to signal me.” Id. ¶
September 13, 2013, Spanish teacher Siragusa singled out
Matthew in front of the whole class and told Matthew to keep
quiet and to stop moving, even though he was causing no
disruption. Id. ¶ 103. Matthew became upset and
left class. Id. After Matthew returned to class,
Siragusa had his class translate from English to Spanish:
“Matt went to football camp. Matt called his parents.
Why did Matt call home?” Id. The Thomas family
reported the Siragusa comments to Dean Doherty. Id.
¶ 105. Dean Doherty apologized for Siragusa's
actions, stating that Siragusa “feels badly for what
had happened.” Id. Matthew was removed from
Siragusa's class and ended up having to repeat Spanish
the following school year. Id. ¶ 106.
September 16, 2013, K.M., Z.D., and G.C. returned to school
from their suspensions. Id. ¶ 107. They were
suspended from the football team for the season. Id.
There was no safety plan for Matthew, and neither Dean
Doherty nor any monitors were keeping watch in the hallways,
as Superintendent Tiano and Dean Doherty had promised.
September 20, 2013, Superintendent Tiano informed the CSC
that he would not make any further communication to parents
about the Camp Robindel incident “in the absence of any
new information” to avoid generating “another
news cycle.” Id. ¶ 109. Superintendent
Tiano did not inform the CSC of the bullying and harassment
of Matthew. Id.
September 30, 2013, Matthew was yelled at by his science
teacher, Kender. Id. ¶ 111. After two other
students got into an argument, Kender took Matthew into the
hallway and screamed that he was an “instigator”
who was causing all sorts of “trouble” and that
she “was sick of it.” Id. When Matthew
tried to speak, Kender told him to “be quiet.”
Id. The Thomas family reported the incident to Dean
Doherty, who said he would look into it. Id. ¶
111. Dean Doherty later told Mrs. Thomas that he had spoken
to Kender and hoped that there would be no further issues.
Id. ¶ 112.
early October 2013, Moreau swore at Matthew after he tossed a
packet of snacks to a friend. Id. ¶ 113. Moreau
yelled, “No Matt, get the hell out of the hallway and
go back to your fucking locker room!” Id. The
incident was reported to CPS. Id.
November 5, 2013, Mrs. Thomas informed Dean Doherty of new
problems that Matthew was having with Kender, who was
questioning his study habits and failing to comply with
Matthew's IEP. Id. ¶¶ 122-24. Dean
Doherty informed Mrs. Thomas that Matthew would get a peer
tutor. Id. ¶ 125.
November 18, 2013, Kender watched a student hit Matthew with
a shoe in her class. Id. ¶ 126. Kender walked
away, appeared happy, and did not discipline the student.
Id. The Thomas family reported the incident to Dean
Doherty, who took no action. Id.
November and December 2013, Z.D. made constant vulgar
comments toward two of Matthew's friends. Id.
¶ 127. The students reported the incidents to Dean
Doherty, who took no action. Id. ¶¶ 128,
the end of 2013 and early 2014, CHS teachers were falsely
told that the criminal case was over and that Matthew had
made everything up. Id. ¶ 132. The complaint
does not state who allegedly made these statements.
early March 2014, Mr. Thomas contacted A.D. Moreau to discuss
how CHS was going to keep Matthew safe during the upcoming
lacrosse season, as Matthew, K.M., and G.C. all played.
Id. ¶ 134. Moreau responded that since the
school had determined that there was no wrongdoing by K.M.,
G.C., and Z.D., there was nothing he could do but that there
would be adults in the locker room. Id. ¶ 137.
lacrosse tryouts, Matthew was mocked and ridiculed by K.M.,
G.C., and other players. Id. ¶ 138. K.M. was
injured and was not trying out, but he was still present on
the sideline. Id. The coaches were aware of K.M. and
G.C.'s actions but did nothing to stop them. Id.
March 19, 2014, Mr. Thomas emailed CPS to express his
concerns about lacrosse tryouts. Id. ¶ 139.
A.D. Moreau responded that coaches were supervising the
players, including from the coaches' room by the locker
room area. Id. ¶ 140. But the coaches' room
did not have windows and the door was typically kept closed
and locked, so someone inside the coaches' room would not
be able to see or hear what was going on in the locker room.
this date, Matthew's coaches treated him differently and
regularly expressed anger at him. Id. ¶ 141.
K.M. was with the team throughout the season even though he
was not playing or practicing, and he continued to taunt
Matthew. Id. ¶ 142.
April 2014, Z.D. continued making sexually explicit and
threatening comments to two of Matthew's friends.
Id. ¶ 144. When Dean Doherty received reports
about those incidents, Dean Doherty told one of the students
to “man up and try to go to lacrosse practice”
and that the incident was just “boys just being
boys.” Id. ¶ 145.
of Matthew increased in frequency and severity in late April
2014. Id. ¶ 149. Matthew reported to Dean
Doherty that he perceived threatening actions not only from
Z.D. and his friends, but also Cole, a teacher. Id.
¶¶ 149, 151, 153-56, 158. Specifically, there was
one occasion when Matthew was in the CHS library with
friends, and Cole approached and started talking to
Matthew's friends while staring intently at Matthew.
Id. ¶ 154. On many days, Cole stood outside
Matthew's history class and intently stared at Matthew
and his friends as they entered history class. Id.
¶ 155. On one occasion outside of school, Cole
approached a friend of Matthew who was fishing and said
“It's better to have a pole in your hands than up
your ass.” Id. ¶ 156.
lacrosse practice, a senior captain tried to take Matthew out
each time they lined up against each other in a drill, to
cheers of the team. Id. ¶ 159. On one occasion,
the captain went up to Matthew, yanked his facemask, and
yelled in his face that he “was going to fucking kill
him” if Matthew did not quit the team. Id.
These incidents were reported to the school and to the coach,
who took no action. Id. ¶ 160. Soon thereafter,
Matthew was suspended for two games, with the given reason
being an unspecified incident that the captain supposedly
reported to the coach. Id. ¶ 161.
5, 2014, Kender interrupted a conversation that Matthew was
having with a classmate who had gotten into trouble.
Id. ¶ 163. Kender said, “Oh, Mattie, you
throw people under the bus.” Id. Kender told
Matthew that he “had bad character” and told him
that he should have talked to the person instead of
“telling on him.” Id. She then gave a
speech to the class suggesting that “children who
report something are snitches and are the worst type of
person.” Id. Mrs. Thomas sent an email to Dean
Doherty about this incident, but Dean Doherty did not
respond. Id. ¶ 165.
6, 2014, a student slapped Matthew in the head and knocked
off his hat. Id. ¶ 164. He looked straight at
Matthew and said, “Take that shit off.”
Id. Matthew reported this incident to Dean Doherty,
who said he would look into it. Id.
27, 2014, someone wrote graffiti relating to Matthew and the
Camp Robindel incident in a CHS bathroom. Id. ¶
168 (“Matt Thomas likes it in the ass.”). The
incident was reported to the CHS dean's office, which
reported the incident to the police. Id. This was
the twenty-fourth incident that Matthew and his family
reported to CPS during the 2013 to 2014 school year.
Id. ¶ 169.
5, 2014, Mrs. Thomas learned that Kender had given Matthew a
failing grade on a lab report when Matthew's partner had
received a perfect score for the same report. Id.
¶ 171. Mrs. Thomas reported to Dean Doherty and
Principal Caliri that Matthew was being targeted and singled
out by Kender. Id.
Transfer to Another School
conclusion of the 2013 to 2014 school year, the Thomas family
decided to transfer Matthew to Central Catholic High School
because they believed that Matthew was not safe at CHS and
CHS was not meeting his educational needs. Id.
¶ 172. Matthew had to repeat his sophomore year at
Central Catholic. Id. ¶ 188.
about August 2014, K.M., G.C., and Z.D. pleaded guilty in
their criminal cases in juvenile court. Id. ¶
190. K.M. and G.C. pleaded guilty to a felony and a Class A
misdemeanor charge, while Z.D. pleaded guilty to two Class A
misdemeanor charges. Id. Three months later, in
November 2014, K.M. was honored for his sportsmanship and
leadership at a Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic
Association event at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA.
Id. ¶¶ 202-03.
students continued to harass Matthew when Central Catholic
played CHS in football and lacrosse. Id.
¶¶ 200, 209, 229. At the CHS-Central Catholic
sophomore football game in September 2014, Mrs. Thomas was
taking photos on the sideline when A.D. Moreau told her that
she could not have her younger children on the sideline and
that she could not be taking pictures there. Id.
¶ 199. However, other parents were allowed to remain
doing exactly what Mrs. Thomas was doing. Id. ¶
August 7, 2015, the Thomas family sent the Town and CSC a
presentment letter, which was confidential because it
referenced juvenile proceedings. Id. ¶ 210. The
media reported on the presentment letter. Id. ¶
212. In an August 21, 2015 local newspaper story, Salvatore
Lupoli, a CHS assistant football coach and CSC member, stated
that he hoped “that people will consider these young
men innocent until proven guilty.” Id. ¶
214. Sometime soon after, the local newspaper anonymously
received an unredacted copy of the presentment letter.
Id. ¶ 216. Only the Thomas family, the Town,
and the CSC had the letter. Id. ¶ 216. In
response to a September 11, 2015 newspaper editorial, Lisa
Vecchione, the sister of Moreau, published a statement
(although it is unclear where): “The allegations ...