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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jury Awards Plaintiffs $392,750 in Sexual Abuse Cover-Up Case Involving Chagrin Falls Nanny School

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 12:45 PM

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Update: A jury in the case against the English Nanny and Governess school found for the plaintiffs this week, awarding $392,750 plus attorneys’ fees for Christina Cruz and Heidi Kaiser ($150,000 compensatory and $168,750 punitive for Cruz, and $20,000 compensatory and $54,000 punitive for Kaiser). The ENGS is owned and operated by Sheilagh Roth and Bradford Gaylord.

The details of the case are grisly (the school retaliating against Cruz, who was a student, and Kaiser, who was an employee, for bringing to the attention of the school's owners a case of sexual abuse involving a client and his daughter. (More on that in the original story below.)

“The jury’s verdict affirms the importance of the strict standard for reporting child abuse,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Peter Pattakos. “If you see something, say something. This case shows why we are called to such a high standard. As we’ve seen here, and in other high-profile cases across the country, it can be all too easy to look the other way when a child’s safety is at risk.”

***

(Original story, 3/31/2015): A Chagrin Falls "nanny school" that trains nannies before placing them with rich families is in court this week, three and a half years after a former student and former employee filed a lawsuit, saying the school’s owners retaliated after the student reported she saw a wealthy client sexually abuse his daughter in 2011.

The English Nanny and Governess School and its unsurprisingly-named owners Bradford Gaylord and Sheilagh Roth are accused of trying to suppress a report made by Christina Cruz, an ENGS student, who said she witnessed a wealthy Philadelphia-area businessman sexually abuse his 9-year-old daughter while she was on a three-day "extended interview" with the family following her completion of the school's three-month program. Gaylord and Roth urged Cruz not to say anything — emphasizing that reporting child abuse “can ruin lives” and that her “her career prospects would suffer if she made the report, including by communicating that her access to job opportunities through their placement service would be contingent on whether she made the report or not,” Cruz's lawyers say. They were worried about losing business of "high-caliber clientele" and the public image of the school if she went through with it.

“What is this mess?” Roth is accused of saying to Cruz. "You're not going to be reporting anybody, you're not a professional, you're not going to report our client.”

After Cruz made the report, which she was likely to have been required to make by state law and the school's own teachings and policy, Gaylord and Roth are accused of engaging in a smear campaign to discredit her and limit her job prospects by saying that she was mentally "unstable" because she previously saw a therapist and her parents had divorced and remarried.

“Mrs. Roth said that Christina's parents had several marriages and of course that creates an unstable person,” a then-employee recorded in the following weeks. They stopped responding to Cruz's inquiries and stopped attempting to place her with other clients, which they are contractually required to do for its students, the suit states.

The other plaintiff in the case is former ENGS placement director Heidi Kaiser, who was fired after she “refused to participate” in Gaylord and Roth's “attempt to suppress Cruz's report.” Just weeks before the incident Roth wrote to an acquaintance how glad she was to have her at the school (“I hired her immediately and she is a wonderful asset to [ENGS].”) When Kaiser didn't play ball with them following the incident — and refused to place other nannies with the client whom Cruz said abused his daughter — the owners are accused of saying she had an alcohol problem and didn't do a menial task as pretext to fire her.

A Chester County (PA) detective — a witness for the plaintiffs — wrote an affidavit saying he did not find anything in his investigation that was “inconsistent” with what Cruz reported. He also stated there was a previous complaint of child abuse against the man based on a cell phone video taken by his youngest daughter of him in bed with his naked older daughter.

Because of Cruz's report and subsequent investigation by the detective and the Chester County Office of Children and Family Services, the two children were removed from his custody, and the case remains open.

At issue in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas this week are Cruz's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Roth and Gaylord, Cruz's complaint against ENGS for breach of contract, and Kaiser's claim of wrongful termination.

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