DULUTH — The parents of the student attacked after a Proctor High School football practice last fall are suing the school district and the former football coaches and superintendent for a civil rights violation related to sexual discrimination.
The student's parents, whom the Star Tribune isn't naming to protect the identity of the victim, filed a suit in federal court Friday on their son's behalf, alleging several things related to the September incident that resulted in the cancellation of the school's football season and the resignation of its head coach. An 18-year-old former Proctor student and football player was given probation in June for assaulting the victim with a plunger and must register as a predatory offender for 10 years.
According to the federal complaint: Toilet plunger-related hazing was common before and during former coach Derek Parendo's decade-plus leading the team, known to coaches, former superintendent John Engelking, the athletic director and guidance counselors.
The complaint alleges players would hold victims down and rub the rubber part of the plunger against their genitalia. They would then urinate into the plunger before sticking it to the ceiling and asking unsuspecting players to remove it. District leaders told Parendo to remove the plunger from the locker room and to advise players on hazing, the complaint says, but the district didn't take adequate measures to ensure this.
An attorney for the school district hadn't seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
Parendo, the former coach who is running for a Proctor School Board seat this fall, also declined to comment. He previously has said he promoted a culture of discipline and accountability, calling the assault an isolated incident and the concept of hazing "so foreign to us."
"I don't know any coaches who talk about it or deal with it," he said last October. "To me it's old culture, [past] generations."
Engelking, who has since retired, could not be reached Monday but previously said the district "has never ignored any alleged misconduct toward staff or students that [was] brought to its attention."
The September incident began after practice in the locker room across the street from the high school when the victim was confronted by a teenager who ultimately assaulted him. None of the coaches was present. The victim fled outside toward the field, thinking it was another plunger joke, court documents have said, and was chased by other players and held down while one player sexually assaulted him with the handle of the plunger.
The lawsuit says "all defendants have condoned student on student sexual and physical harassment and assault in the past by down-playing the acts, failing to ensure the toilet plunger was removed, failing to educate staff and student-athletes regarding the dangers of hazing and bullying, and by violating its own policies, procedures and/or state law or federal law."
The victim has suffered embarrassment, humiliation, fear of retaliation, intimidation, breach of trust, anxiety and depression, according to the complaint. A statement from him read by his mother in court in June said that what happened "will affect my life forever."
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the victim by not enforcing harassment and assault policies. It also says the school district was negligent in its duties to protect the victim and in the hiring, supervision and retention of Parendo, the unnamed assistant coaches and Engelking.
The family seeks at least $75,000 in damages.
A coach either created or permitted such a culture, and school staff and parents knew and failed to intervene, Judge Dale Harris said at the time.
Proctor residents and families reeled after the allegations surfaced in September amid little information from police and school leaders. A lengthy investigation led to a felony charge in January. The teen pleaded guilty in May under an agreement that kept him within juvenile jurisdiction. He was sentenced to supervised probation. If he violates that, he is subject to a four-year prison sentence. The Star Tribune typically doesn't name juveniles charged with crimes. He was 17 at the time of the assault.
A call to the attorney of the victim's family was not immediately returned Monday.