Lawsuit: Phenix City schools officials slow to act on teacher's affair with student

The parents of a teenager who had a sexual relationship with a local cheerleading coach have filed a federal lawsuit against the Phenix City school district, claiming school officials took months to remove the coach from the Central High Freshman Academy despite many red flags.

Jennifer Dawn Young, 41, was terminated last year after she allegedly was caught engaging in sex acts with the girl in a school classroom. The lawsuit, filed this month in U.S. District Court, says Young lured the girl into the relationship with numerous gifts — including a Rolex watch — and that the ordeal prompted the student to attempt suicide.

According to the lawsuit, Young sent the girl inappropriate text messages and emails between June 2010 and March 2011. The girl’s parents made “numerous complaints about their suspicions,” the suit claims, but school officials allegedly failed to remove Young from her position until she was caught in the act months later.

“The sexual conduct that the Plaintiff endured was unwelcome and sufficiently severe, pervasive and objectively offensive so as to systematically deprive the Plaintiff of equal access to an education program or activity,” the suit claims.

Young was arrested last year and indicted by a Russell County grand jury on one count of engaging as a school employee in “deviant sexual intercourse” with a student, a Class B felony. She is scheduled to stand trial July 30, according to court documents.

“Not only will my office and Ms. Young continue to fight these false allegations pending against her in criminal court, she will do the same in the civil lawsuit filed in federal court,” said Young’s defense attorney, Jeremy W. Armstrong.

Phenix City Schools Superintendent Larry DiChiara, who is sued in his individual and official capacities, declined to comment on the allegations against the school district. “Please know that we will be denying the charges in the suit and are prepared to defend ourselves vigorously,” he wrote in an email.

The parents of the alleged victim say they provided copies of Young’s inappropriate exchanges with the teen, and had personal meetings with school officials to voice their concerns.

The family’s attorney, Richard F. Horsley of Birmingham, Ala., said school officials contacted the Phenix City Police Department and the Alabama Department of Human Resources. “But it’s my understanding that the teacher remained in employ on the school grounds pending the investigation — and then subsequent to the investigation — for at least four or five more months after the parents expressed their concerns,” he said in a telephone interview.

The lawsuit claims school officials failed to conduct a background check on Young before hiring her as a teacher’s aide and coach.

“Such a background (check) would have revealed that the Defendant Young had a history that would have made it inappropriate for her to be hired into the school system,” the lawsuit claims. Horsley declined to elaborate on that claim.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount of damages. “We just left in an amount for a jury to determine,” Horsley said.