Cleveland City Schools has responded to new claims that an administrator mocked a girl's sexual assault allegations at a seventh grade assembly in April, part of an ongoing lawsuit seeking $15 million over allegations of repeated sexual assaults of the student in 2019.

According to filings by the plaintiff's attorneys J. Taylor Thomas and Russell L. Leonard, the girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted while school officials looked the other way and her parents were only told days later by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

The federal lawsuit originally sought $10 million when filed in December, and that increased to $15 million in an amended filing on July 8.

The plaintiff's family claims during an April 19 meeting on the subject of sexual assault and harassment — with the alleged victim in attendance — a seventh grade administrator at Cleveland Middle School trivialized the allegations with statements such as "even if you look the wrong way, you'd probably get sued" and by likening sexual harassment to horseplay.

According to the complaint, students then played a game of tag in which they shouted "sexual harassment!" when touched.


Read the lawsuit filed against Cleveland City Schools, officials


Friday's response filed by the defendants' lawyer, Jonathan Taylor, described the April 19 meeting as "a virtual 'family' meeting" broadcast via video-conferencing to the middle school's seventh grade students, teachers and administrators.

The latest filing does not offer an alternative description of events at the assembly, other than to generally deny the allegations and to say the meeting did not take place on Zoom.

School administrators have not responded to questions from the Times Free Press about whether the administrator's comments as described would comply with school district policies and whether the administrator is still employed at the school.

In case filings, the school system has generally denied the family's allegations.

"These defendants deny having knowledge that the physical nature of the alleged assault by this student against [the alleged victim] consisted of more than a pat on the bottom," the school system's latest response states.

The answer also denies that officials failed to alert the parents of the girl, whose identity has been obscured in court filings.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.