High school employee claims district knew of principal’s ‘predatory behavior,’ failed to act
Ruth Brown, Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
A woman who claims that Fruitland High School principal Mike Fitch sexually assaulted and harassed her on school property has filed a tort claim against the school district, alleging that multiple people knew of his “predatory behavior.”
The tort claim was filed March 5 against the Fruitland School District and was obtained through a records request by the Idaho Statesman. A tort claim is a legal complaint filed against a public agency prior to a lawsuit being filed. The Statesman does not identify victims of sexual assault or those who allege such behavior.
Fitch was charged with three misdemeanors last month in connection with accusations made by the same woman who filed the tort claim.
The allegations made in the tort claim include some of the same allegations that led to the criminal charges against Fitch in Payette County. As principal, Fitch was one of the people who interviewed the woman when she was hired, and he was her supervisor. Allegations include Fitch placing the woman’s hand on his erect penis while at the school, groping her without her consent at the school, and grabbing her by the pony-tail to pull her head into his groin area “in an effort to force her to give him oral sex,” according to the tort claim.
The claim outlines several occasions when the woman says she declined Fitch’s advances, and after she declined his advances, Fitch is accused of offering to pay her $300 for sex. For that incident, a prosecutor charged Fitch on suspicion of patronizing a prostitute. He’s also charged with two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery.
“(The woman) was intimidated and overwhelmed by Mr. Fitch’s advances as she was a new employee and Mr. Fitch was her boss,” the tort claim alleges.
On top of being personally assaulted and harassed, the woman outlined several occasions in which she claims other people knew of Fitch’s alleged inappropriate behavior with female students at the high school and female employees.
“Mr. Fitch’s sexual harassment of female staff and students was well known by the Fruitland School District administration,” the tort claim states. “Superintendent Teresa Fabricius had received reports of Mr. Fitch’s sexual misconduct and sexual harassment of students and staff in March of 2018, April of 2018, May of 2018, and August of 2018.”
The claim goes on to allege that prior to 2018, “there had been numerous reports, complaints or concerns raised regarding Mr. Fitch’s inappropriate conduct with female students, dating back more than a decade.”
“The tort claim has been directed to the district’s liability insurance provider and legal counsel, who are reviewing the allegations contained in the tort claim,” Fabricius told the Statesman. “Because of the legal nature of this claim, it is not appropriate for the district to respond to questions about this matter.”
The woman who filed the tort claim alleges that she had received warnings from two other female employees, including the athletic director, about Fitch’s “predatory behavior.”
“Because of the school district’s inaction and refusal to protect students and staff from Mr. Fitch, a group of female staff took it upon themselves to protect female students and staff (who) they noticed Mr. Fitch targeting, stalking and harassing,” the tort claim states. “The group was named ‘The Fitch Patrol.’”
The claim alleges that there was no investigation conducted by the school district, and that Fitch was permitted to remain in his role as principal, despite the complaints about his behavior.
Fitch was placed on administrative leave in November after Idaho State Police began a criminal investigation into the allegations. The tort claim alleges that Fitch “targeted (the victim) while he was under criminal investigation for sexual misconduct/harassment/and assault on students and other staff.”
Fabricius has served as Fruitland High’s acting administrator since Fitch was been placed leave. The school board rehired Fabricius in January for the 2019-20 school year.
Fabricius told the Statesman on Monday that “Mr. Fitch is currently employed by the district” but did not expand on whether he was still on administrative leave.
Fitch’s contract, valid through June 30, provided a salary of about $77,600. He was also the longtime boys basketball coach in Fruitland.
Fitch has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial while he is out of custody. His next court appearance is set for April 8 in Payette County. He has not been charged with any crimes connected to students or juveniles.
The tort claim alleges that the woman involved was subjected to humiliation, discrimination and disparate treatment. It asks for damages due to pain, suffering, emotional distress, psychological harm and mental anguish, but does not cite a specific amount of money. The damages could be assessed at a trial if a lawsuit is filed.