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G.G v. Karen Grindle

November 23, 2011

G.G., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
KAREN GRINDLE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 05 C 473--William J. Hibbler, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED OCTOBER 27, 2011

Before FLAUM, KANNE, and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

A jury found Karen Grindle guilty of claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 20 U.S.C. § 1681 for her failure to prevent the sexual abuse of several female middle school students by their band teacher, Robert Sperlik. Grindle was the principal of the South Berwyn School District 100 when the abuse occurred; Sperlik pled guilty to multiple counts of aggra- vated kidnaping and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

Grindle now appeals the jury's compensatory and punitive damages award as to one plaintiff, G.G. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

This appeal follows a jury verdict in favor of G.G., and eight other plaintiffs, on claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 20 U.S.C. § 1681. Grindle was the principal of the South Berwyn School District 100 when Sperlik's sexual abuse occurred. Plaintiffs alleged that Grindle had knowledge and/or reason to believe that Sperlik was engaging in sexual misconduct with female students, yet failed to take sufficient action to prevent and stop the abuse. The jury found in favor of all nine plaintiffs and awarded G.G. $250,000 in compensatory damages. The jury also awarded punitive damages in the amount of $100,000 to be divided among the nine plaintiffs.

G.G. began taking flute lessons with Sperlik while a fifth grader at Pershing Elementary School. At trial, G.G. testified that Sperlik made inappropriate sexual contact with her on two occasions; both incidents occurred when she was ten years old. G.G. was the youngest of Sperlik's victims. The first incident involved Sperlik placing his hands on her neck, massaging her left shoulder, and then lowering his hands until he touched her breast. The second incident occurred when Sperlik began "tapping the beat" on G.G.'s left leg. He then moved his hand up past her knee and placed it in the middle of her thigh. At that point, G.G. became scared and "flinched," jumping to the next seat.

G.G. acknowledged at trial that she had a difficult childhood. She experimented with drugs, became sex- ually active at a young age, cut herself with razor blades, and experienced difficulties dealing with her weight, her peers, and her family. G.G. attempted sui- cide in the summer of 2008 and was briefly hospi-

talized following that attempt. At the trial, G.G. acknowl- edged that she did not "blame[] Mr. Sperlik for all the problems [she'd] had in [her] life." However, she also stated that his abuse was very much part of her life and that she would "have to live with it for the rest of my life." G.G. began to see a counselor shortly after disclosing Sperlik's abuse to her family. She has been seeing a counselor for the past six years (she is now sixteen). G.G. has also been prescribed medication to help her deal with depression, mood swings and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD").

Kelli Underwood, G.G.'s counselor since 2006, testified at the trial. Underwood is the director of child and family programs at the Center for Contextual Change. Underwood explained that G.G. was diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") as a result of Sperlik's abuse. In discussing G.G.'s diagnosis, Underwood noted that G.G. was only ten years old when she was abused.

G.G. described "a lot of horror and fear and anxiety around [the abuse]" and had "dreams, nightmares, about what had happened and different versions of nightmares around Mr. Sperlik." G.G. soon avoided situations that reminded her of what happened with Sperlik, including pom-pom, volleyball, basketball and band. Underwood testified that there was nothing else in G.G.'s history that was sufficiently traumatic to cause her symptoms of PTSD other than Sperlik's sexual abuse.

Underwood explained that when assessing the impact of sexual abuse upon a victim, "[i]t's not about the actual contact, [because] so much of sexual abuse is about the psychological and emotional damage that's done . . . its not just the event, but how it affected the person ...


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