Today, we filed a class action lawsuit against Saint Frances Academy, a private Roman Catholic high school located in Baltimore City, on behalf of Jill Doe, a current Saint Frances Academy student, and all current and former students at Saint Frances Academy who were harassed, sexually assaulted, abused, exploited, and/or inappropriately touched by Ryan Penalver, a former teacher and administrator at Saint Frances Academy. The lawsuit names as defendants Penalver, as well as Saint Frances Academy, Inc. and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore (“Archdiocese”), both of which own, operate and/or manage Saint Frances Academy and employed and supervised Penalver.
In early May of 2018, abusing his position as a member of the Saint Frances Academy faculty, Penalver engaged in sexual relations with a minor student. Worse yet, Penalver had begun grooming this student using his school email account since April. After the student sought his support for emotional and mental distress, instead of helping her, he used his position of trust and authority to sexually abuse, assault, and exploit her, coercing her into exchanging sexually explicit photographs and videos, and forcing her to engage in sexual acts while on school property– acts to which she could not legally consent.
The lawsuit further alleges that, upon information and belief, Penalver harassed, engaged in inappropriate sexual communications with, and/or sexually abused, assaulted, and/or exploited other students at Saint Frances Academy. Upon information and belief, agents, employees, and/or administrators at Saint Frances Academy knew or should have known about Penalver’s propensity to harass and exploit others, yet Saint Frances Academy, Inc., and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore failed to protect Jill Doe and other students and failed to prevent Penalver’s unconscionable actions.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Saint Frances Academy administrators knew or should have known that, on or about November 12, 2017, Penalver had been formally charged with criminal harassment in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. The lawsuit further alleges that, upon information and belief, prior to Penalver’s assault of Jill Doe, members of the Saint Frances school community had knowledge that Penalver had previously engaged in inappropriate communications with other students. Saint Frances Academy, Inc.’s and the Archdiocese’s failure to adequately and properly supervise Penalver, failure to adequately investigate complaints and concerns regarding Penalver’s conduct and propensities, and failure to terminate Penalver on or before November 2017 exposed Jill Doe and others to a teacher with a propensity to harass, abuse, harm, and assault others. As such, the lawsuit claims that Saint Frances Academy, Inc. and the Archdiocese are liable for Penalver’s actions.
Hassan Murphy, Managing Partner at Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, said today, “It is beyond disturbing that at Saint Frances Academy, an institution dedicated to the development and education of underprivileged Baltimore City youth, a teacher and administrator would be able to sexually harass, exploit, abuse and violate a student in this manner.” Murphy added, “Saint Frances Academy and the Archdiocese’s failure to protect their students from Penalver’s proclivity to harass and violate others indicates a lack of leadership and a serious lack of appreciation for the immense faith bestowed upon their institution by the parents and families of their students.” Murphy continued, “We call on Saint Frances to work with us to immediately identify any additional victims of this abhorrent conduct so that they may get the help and treatment that they desperately need. Victims of sexual abuse suffer dramatically increased incidences of suicidal behavior, self-harm, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Without treatment, these risks increase each and every day, and we at the Murphy Firm will not stop until Jill Doe and any other student that has been harmed receives the help and justice they deserve.”
 “Jill Doe” is a pseudonym.