‘Birthday spankings’ lead to lawsuit against Saginaw Township schools

A lawsuit has been filed against a mid-Michigan school district and several officials after a school custodian allegedly spanked and pinched a girl’s buttocks.
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 1:46 PM EDT
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SAGINAW, Mich. (WNEM) - A lawsuit has been filed against a mid-Michigan school district and several officials after a school custodian allegedly spanked and pinched a girl’s buttocks.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan on Aug. 5, names Saginaw Township Community Schools, Hemmeter Elementary School Principal James Bailey, Superintendent D. Bruce Martin, and a woman custodian referred to as “Jane Roe”.

According to court documents, in May 2022, an 8-year-old girl at Hemmeter Elementary School was walking through the hallway on the way to the bathroom when she encountered Roe. The student told Roe it was her eighth birthday, and Roe asked her if she wanted her “birthday spankings” now or during lunch.

The family attorney says the girl didn’t know how to respond to that. So, she told the custodian she wouldn’t be in the school at lunchtime.

“It was her birthday. It was supposed to be a special day. They had plans and she just didn’t want to do anything that day,” Attorney, Kevin Kelly said.

The lawsuit alleges when the girl told Roe that she was not going to be at lunch, Roe took the student into the restroom where she spanked her eight times and pinched her buttocks.

“The custodian slapped her on the bottom eight times and then pinched her. The girl felt very uncomfortable,” Kelly said.

That discomfort prompted a lawsuit against the district and the accused custodian.

There are no cameras within the restrooms, so there is no footage of the incident.

That evening, the girl told her mother and stepfather what happened. The next morning, they reported the incident to the principal and the girl’s teacher.

The lawsuit states that even though there are legal requirements to do so, Bailey did not report the incident to Children’s Protective Services or police. Roe was placed on administrative leave.

“The school district didn’t want to do anything. They had proposed to bring the custodian back to school, back where the student could interact with a custodian and, you know, that was their response,” Kelly said.

Court documents state that Roe admitted to intentionally touching and pinching the girl’s buttocks, and that she had done similar acts at her prior place of employment, R.B. Havens Elementary School.

The lawsuit said that on May 18, the girl’s mother spoke with Bailey, and told him that touching is a common grooming technique. Bailey told the mother that Roe would return to work the following day, and the mother said that she was not comfortable having her daughter in the same building.

The girl’s mother contacted the superintendent, asking him if he thought it was safe for her daughter to attend school. The lawsuit said that Matin did not provide an answer.

“As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ unlawful actions, plaintiff’s minor has sustained and will continue to sustain economic damages, including compensatory and consequential damages, and non-economic damages, including emotional distress, mental anguish, shock, fright, humiliation, embarrassment, nervousness, anxiety, depression, and disruption of lifestyle,” the lawsuit said.

The suit outlines the following charges against the defendants:

  • Violations of due process under the 14th Amendment
  • Violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment
  • Sex discrimination in violation of the Education Amendment of 1972
  • Two counts of sex discrimination in violation of the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
  • Sex discrimination in violation of the Michigan Equal Accommodations Act

“Don’t understand how a custodian is allowed to have that kind of access to an eight year old? You know, what are they doing? Taking him into the bathroom?” Attorney Victor Mastromarco said.

According to attorney’s Victor Mastromarco and Kevin Kelly, this is not the first time this custodian has done this.

“They talked to the custodian and one of the things they told the mother was there, the custodian admitted to doing this admitting to touching the kid and had some I felt it was okay. Because she had touched kids at a different school that she had worked at previously,” Kelly said.

The family says the incident has caused the girl anxiety and moments of nausea.

Attorneys question why procedures were not followed when the family reported the incident.

“They are mandatory reporters for this kind of thing. And the, you know, the nonchalant attitude that they’ve taken. All right is, you know, just violates the very rules that they’re supposed to be following,”Mastromarco said.

The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in damages, plus costs, interest, and attorney fees.