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Framingham

Social worker sues, says schools pushed him out

A former Framingham High School social worker who resigned last March after he said administrators mishandled sexual assault complaints against a male student is suing the town’s school system, alleging that district officials had pressured him to step down.

The civil lawsuit, filed Feb. 14 in US District Court in Boston, says that administrators created a hostile work environment for Kevin Fox after he spoke up about a male student who reportedly sexually assaulted two female students at the high school in separate incidents in 2012.

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The case was investigated by Framingham police and the Middlesex district attorney’s office, and no charges were filed against the student. The school system has taken steps to improve its method of responding to sexual harassment complaints after an investigation into the controversy by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The school district’s superintendent, Stacy Scott, and Framingham High principal Michael Welch declined to comment on the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, administrators shunned Fox “in every school function and event” after a Facebook page was launched in response to the controversy.

The lawsuit contends that Welch created a hostile environment by repeatedly asking Fox whether he planned to resign, and by issuing Fox a verbal and a written reprimand on a separate topic to retaliate against him for being vocal about the sexual assault allegations. The reprimand was reversed after Fox fought it, and he states in his lawsuit that Scott ignored Fox’s concerns “that he was being bullied into silence.”

Welch also allegedly told Fox to take an administrative leave after the reprimand episode “to further retaliate against and silence” him, as well as “to economically threaten, intimidate, and coerce” him, according to the lawsuit.

‘I think this lawsuit is necessary to show schools that they cannot simply sweep things like this under the rug.’

KEVIN FOX, Former Framingham High social worker who is suing the school district in federal court 
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Fox “had been there 10 years with no disciplinary history, but when he complained about two sexual assaults, the administration turned around and tried to discipline him and force him into retirement,” the social worker’s lawyer, Timothy Burke, said by phone.

The civil lawsuit also states that Framingham school administrators have made it impossible for Fox to get a new job.

“They won’t recommend him because he spoke out,” Burke said.

“I think this lawsuit is necessary to show schools that they cannot simply sweep things like this under the rug,” Fox said.

He is seeking damages for his loss of income, benefits, and potential job opportunities, as well as for the emotional stress caused by the controversy, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes after an investigation by the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights prompted the Framingham school district to agree to overhaul its policies and to respond “promptly and equitably” to future sexual harassment complaints, with the help of paid consultants.

Fox said he filed a complaint with the Department of Education last March because Framingham administrators had done too little to investigate the assault allegations.

Scott said the school system is “right up to date, if not ahead of schedule, in terms of getting things done” under its agreement with the Office for Civil Rights. Scott said the district has provided additional training for teachers and faculty, and administrators have updated policies and procedures on how to handle reporting such claims. Scott said Framingham has already provided the federal agency with documentation of reports and complaints and how the district handled them, even though the information is not due until June.

“We have basically done a total upgrade in conjunction with the direction that the Office for Civil Rights had recommended and guided us to do,” Scott said. “I think the school district has tried everything it can to ensure the safety of students and staff, and has worked on a variety of procedures to ensure there is effective reporting across the district.”

A spokesman for the US Department of Education said the Office for Civil Rights is continuing to monitor the school system’s actions under the resolution agreement “to ensure it is fully implemented.”

Fox resigned from his job at the high school on the day of an assembly about violence against women, because he believed administrators had mishandled the case. “I really couldn’t stand the hypocrisy any more,” he previously told the Globe. Some students also protested the school’s response.

According to the lawsuit, the first student who said she was sexually assaulted came to Fox two weeks after the incident, which she said happened on a landing in a school stairway. Fox notified school officials, a school police officer, and the state Department of Families and Children, the lawsuit said. Although Fox tried to persuade school officials to discipline the male student, they did not act, the lawsuit says.

About a month after the first report, the lawsuit alleges, the same male student sexually assaulted a second female student. The male student was then suspended for the last five days of the school year, in June 2012, according to the complaint.

The Middlesex district attorney’s office looked into a case after it was contacted by the high school, but no charges were filed.

“In 2012, Framingham High School contacted law enforcement authorities, and an investigation was launched by the Framingham Police Department and the Middlesex district attorney’s office into an allegation of sexual assault,” Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said in an e-mail statement. “Based on that investigation, we determined that the matter would be closed without the filing of criminal charges. The specificity of the assessment and particular reasons that led to this determination remain confidential, due to the nature of our obligations and responsibilities under the law.”

Kathleen Burge of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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