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HPS denies ex-teacher's allegations

Havre Public Schools has denied the allegations of a former employee who sued the school district and claimed she was sexually harassed by a former student and was discriminated against because of her gender.

The school district Tuesday filed a response in state District Court to a November lawsuit by former Havre Middle School teacher Lorna Stremcha. Tuesday was the deadline to file the response.

The response, written by Helena attorney Catherine Swift, said Stremcha failed to file her lawsuit within the time limits set by the Montana Human Rights Act and the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The response also said Stremcha's complaints are not ones for which she legally can be compensated, and that if any misconduct did occur, the school district could not have reasonably been expected to be aware of it.

The response also said the district acted appropriately when handling Stremcha's complaint of discriminatory conduct. The district took "prompt and appropriate action" to investigate Stremcha's claims once they were brought to the district's attention, the response said.

It added that conduct described in Stremcha's lawsuit would not meet federal guidelines defining sexual harassment.

Stremcha's attorney, Randy Randolph of Havre, could not be reached for comment today.

Stremcha's lawsuit alleges that on April 16, 2002, she was confronted by an 18-year-old man at the middle school during regular school hours. The man, a former student, "subjected her to intense sexual harassment," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says HMS Principal Vance Blatter and Barry Zanto, dean of students at the middle school, "knowingly subjected" Stremcha to harassment by the student and others. It also alleges that from the time of the incident until she was fired a year later, the school district retaliated against Stremcha for complaining about the incident as well as about her treatment by school district employees and about "a sexually offensive and hostile work environment."

Swift's response denied wrongdoing by Blatter and Zanto.

Stremcha's lawsuit said the school district's actions prompted her to file a complaint with the state Human Rights Bureau. The complaint, filed in August of 2002, was investigated and rejected. The bureau concluded that evidence did not support Stremcha's claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation. Stremcha appealed and the Montana Human Rights Commission dismissed the complaint on June 4.

Stremcha is seeking more than $200,000 in actual and general damages, as well as unspecified punitive damages.

Swift did not return a phone call seeking comment this morning.


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