Former Student Sues Catlin Gabel For Covering Up Child Sexual Abuse By Teacher

Jan 14, 2020
Originally published on January 13, 2020 3:46 pm

Wilson said Shoemaker repeatedly made her sit on his lap during class, where he ran his hand up the front of her shirt at least 80 times during the year, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Multnomah County circuit court.

Standing in front of a photo of herself from sixth grade, Wilson was flanked by her brother on one side and one of her attorneys, Gilion Dumas, on the other.

“I am coming forward today because I was quieted and devalued by the school for so many years,” Wilson said Monday at a press conference.

Wilson’s lawsuit alleges Catlin Gabel was negligent in protecting students from Shoemaker. She’s seeking $4.5 million in economic and noneconomic damages.

At the time of the alleged abuse, Wilson said in a 2018 Facebook post that she was uncomfortable and too “young and innocent to completely understand” Shoemaker’s behavior.

It wasn’t until eight years later in 2002, when she said a group of sixth grade girls came forward, that Wilson felt comfortable speaking up, too.

She was 19 at the time and spoke to an investigator. Around that same time, Shoemaker resigned under pressure from the head of school.

In August 2018, Shoemaker died. Wilson came forward that October, this time with a Facebook post. In it, she shared her allegation.

“The school silenced the uncomfortable truth,” read a line in the post.

Wilson’s lawsuit comes a month after an independent report found several instances of sexual misconduct by former Catlin Gabel employees. The report names six former employees believed to have engaged in sexual misconduct, including Shoemaker. Twenty-one total people were accused of misconduct by students, according to the report.

The allegations are also the subject of a Washington County Sheriff’s office investigation.

In a statement, Catlin Gabel apologized to students who were subjected to sexual misconduct and abuse during their time at the school.

“We want to hear from our survivors and to establish a meaningful dialogue with each one who reaches out,” read the statement.

Last month, Catlin Gabel had a listening session with 45 alumni, and school officials plan to hold another later this month. The school’s independent investigator is still soliciting information from past and present students.

And the school said it's in the process of developing a group to examine the school’s culture and develop policies to better ensure student safety.

Wilson said she’d like to see the school make changes to a culture that allowed abuse to continue for so many years.

“I would like the school to stop leaning on the victims and the alumni as their way of figuring out the solution, but as a way for people who’ve been quieted for a long time to have their voices heard and to have the community heal together,” Wilson said.

Dumas and her law partner, Ashley Vaughn, say the outside investigation was incomplete because the investigator only talked to victims who self-identified. They said it also didn’t include allegations of physical child abuse.

And though Wilson’s lawsuit is the first against the school, Dumas said it won’t be the last.

“My law firm has other clients who went to Catlin Gabel,” Dumas said. “We’ll be filing other lawsuits for some of them in the next few weeks.”

Dumas and Vaughn’s firm represents survivors of sexual abuse and assault. Dumas said victims and survivors coming forward help hold institutions accountable – and force change.

“It might be hard for Catlin Gabel to do this, but other institutions have had to do it and are better places for it now. Like the Catholic Church…the Boy Scouts, like other private schools,” Dumas said.

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