Lawsuit says multiple assaults began in 1981 when student was a freshman at Santana High School
A new lawsuit accuses Grossmont Union High School District of failing to protect a former student from years of repeated sexual assaults by a school counselor during the 1980s.
The lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court says the abuse occurred at school and elsewhere while the student, now a 54-year-old man, was a student aide to the counselor.
The lawsuit names the former counselor, Douglas Ray Foster, who was not charged with the assaults alleged in the lawsuits. He died in 1990, according to the Grossmont district.
The former student, Shawn Morris, lives in Washington state. He did not tell law enforcement or school officials of the abuse at the time, his attorney said, because of fear and the fact that Foster was an authority figure at the school.
In an emailed statement, the Grossmont school district said last week that it was “shocked and saddened” to learn of the allegations. School officials did not answer questions about Foster’s history with the school, except to confirm he worked there and he died.
“Immediately upon notification of the situation, the district notified law enforcement of the allegations and has cooperated with … attorneys’ requests for available documentation in a mutual search for truth and accountability since then,” the district said.
“Unfortunately, since the alleged conduct took place nearly 40 years ago, this is a challenging undertaking. The District will continue its efforts to investigate the very disturbing allegations.”
The lawsuit said the assaults began in 1981, when Morris was a 14-year-old freshman at Santana High School.
Morris was especially vulnerable, the lawsuit said, because his parents had divorced and his stepfather was abusive to his mother, and Morris would step in and take the abuse for his mother. Morris was looking for guidance and support from a male figure.
The lawsuit alleged Foster took advantage of this vulnerability and targeted Morris for sexual grooming, making Morris his student aide and requiring Morris to report to him daily.
Morris was too terrified to stop Foster, the lawsuit said, and the counselor used his authority to escalate his abuse.
On many occasions, Foster brought Morris into his office, locked the door, drew the blinds and sexually assaulted him, the lawsuit alleged.
This happened several times a week and sometimes daily, the lawsuit said.
“The complete lack of supervision at Santana High School allowed these assaults to occur in (his) office, in classrooms, and in custodial closets,” the lawsuit said. “School leadership failed plaintiff in the most tragic way imaginable.”
Eventually Foster continued his abuse off campus, according to the lawsuit. He took Morris to an adult entertainment venue called The Tubs, where he raped Morris, the lawsuit said.
Morris was paralyzed by fear because of the counselor’s status as a school staff member and authority figure, the lawsuit said. Morris ran out of The Tubs in his underwear and walked eight hours to get home.
The counselor brought Morris back to The Tubs two more times, the lawsuit alleged.
The continued sexual assaults made Morris want to drop out of high school, the lawsuit said. He tried enrolling in an alternative high school program at Grossmont, only to find that Foster was assigned as his teacher, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said Foster continued to assault Morris for a few more weeks until Morris dropped out of high school.
Even though Morris did not tell school staff about the abuse at the time, the lawsuit said staff should have noticed Foster’s suspicious behavior, such as him pulling Morris into his room alone several times a week and closing the blinds, and stopped it.
“It has to raise red flags; it has to raise suspicions,” said attorney Brian L. Williams, based in Orange County, who is representing Morris. “And the failure to notice and make a response, an inquiry to such suspicions is negligence. And that’s what we’re suing the school for.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for the physical and emotional toll of the abuse, including Morris’ feelings of shame, humiliation, horror and lifelong suffering. Morris has sought out therapy multiple times, Williams said.
“The years of sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of Douglas Foster turned into decades of trauma,” Morris said in a statement. “It has affected every part of my life. I dropped out of high school to avoid further assault. It has impacted my relationships, jobs and my ability to trust others.”
Morris earned his General Equivalency Diploma in 2015 and works in the construction industry, according to his attorneys. He is a father and a grandfather.
He is sharing his story now in the hopes of effecting institutional change to prevent abuse like this from happening to others, Williams said.
“I am coming forward to share my story to protect others, heal and have an opportunity at a better life,” Morris said.
Morris is suing Grossmont under a state law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 that allows victims of childhood sexual assault to take legal action against their perpetrator, or someone who owed them a duty of care, within five years of discovering that they suffered psychological harm or illness because of the sexual assault, or within 22 years of becoming an adult.
The law also allows people to file legal claims within three years of Jan. 1, 2020.