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Former N.H. legislator alleges abuse at Phillips Academy Andover

Alexander Theroux allegedly “engaged in sexual misconduct toward a student in the 1970s,” school officials said in 2016.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File

Alexander Theroux allegedly “engaged in sexual misconduct toward a student in the 1970s,” school officials said in 2016.

A former New Hampshire state representative on Friday filed a federal lawsuit alleging that a teacher at Phillips Academy Andover sexually abused her when she was about 15, court filings show.

Marie Sapienza, now an attorney in private practice in Hampstead, N.H., is seeking $5 million in damages in the suit, which alleges that in about 1982, Alexander Theroux, then an English teacher and writer-in-residence at Andover, groped her breasts and buttocks, according to the filings.

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Theroux, who was previously named by the academy as one of five former teachers accused of sexually abusing students, later called Sapienza at her home and asked her to enroll in a class he taught, promising her a good grade, she alleges.

Neither Sapienza nor Theroux responded to requests for comment Sunday evening. Sapienza is scheduled to announce the suit at a news conference Monday morning, according to Road to Recovery Inc., an organization that assists sexual abuse survivors.

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Theroux is a poet and a writer of fiction and nonfiction, and the brother of novelist Paul Theroux. His books include “Darconville’s Cat” and “Laura Warholic: or, The Sexual Intellectual.”

Sapienza’s suit also alleges that when she later reported the assault to the academy’s then-headmaster, Donald McNemar, he said he would do nothing because Theroux had left the school by then. Andover is not named as a defendant.

McNemar declined to address the claim when reached by phone Sunday night. “I just can’t comment on a pending lawsuit,” he said.

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Head of School John Palfrey offered his sympathies for survivors of abuse in a statement.

“Our hearts go out to all those who were harmed at our school and at all schools in the past,” Palfrey said. “At Andover, we are committed to learning as much as we can about our school’s past, offering support and acknowledgment for survivors of sexual misconduct, and ensuring the safety and security of all students on our campus today.

“The harms done to students in the past must never be repeated.”

A previous investigation found that five former teachers at the academy allegedly harmed students during the 1970s and 1980s, Andover announced in August. At the time, Palfrey named three former faculty members accused of abuse, including Theroux, in a letter to the school community.

Theroux allegedly “engaged in sexual misconduct toward a student in the 1970s” — before Sapienza came to the academy — and multiple people expressed concerns to investigators about his behavior, Palfrey wrote last year.

Theroux denied the allegations, Palfrey said, but has been banned from campus and school events.

The court documents state that Sapienza continues to experience “mental distress and emotional injuries” from the assault that have led to “suicidal ideation, depression, sadness, anger, anxiety, sleep problems, and panic attacks.”

Sapienza only recently realized the harm that the assault had caused her, according to the filings.

Sapienza’s attorney is Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represented survivors of clergy sexual abuse in cases that in 2002 helped publicly expose widespread abuse within the Catholic church and a conspiracy within the church hierarchy to conceal that abuse.

Garabedian could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Last year, the Globe Spotlight team reported that since 1991, at least 67 private schools in New England have faced allegations that at least 200 students were abused or harassed by employees.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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