Seattle Public Schools has reached a $3 million settlement with a former Ballard High School student who was repeatedly sexually abused by a former soccer and basketball coach over three years.
The district knew 38-year-old Meghan Miller, who was arrested in 2018, was a danger to students but hired her anyway, according to the lawsuit filed in December 2020 in King County Superior Court. Miller pleaded guilty in 2019 to one count of child molestation and two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. She is a registered sex offender.
“This situation that occurred with our client at Ballard was entirely preventable,” said William L. Dixon, the former Ballard student’s attorney. (The student was identified by the initials A.L. in the lawsuit to protect her privacy.) “The Seattle school district failed at multiple levels. The abuse our client suffered has a profound effect on her and will have an effect on her for many years to come.”
After the lawsuit was filed, “SPS participated in good faith in several mediations to reach a mutually agreeable financial resolution with the plaintiff,” district spokesperson Beverly Redmond said in an email. “SPS Human Resources has now implemented a central review process when hiring with all positions as a further safeguard against employing individuals with a questionable employment history.”
Seattle Schools paid $77,000 of the settlement. The rest of the money was paid by the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool, Redmond said.
Miller did not respond to requests for comment.
She worked as an assistant soccer and basketball coach at Roosevelt High School in 2007 and was let go in 2009 because she crossed boundaries with students repeatedly, according to the lawsuit. The former coach slept over at a student’s house, engaged with students on social media, and invited students out to lunch, dinner and movies, Dixon said.
In 2010, Miller was rehired as a soccer coach at Ballard and later also became an instructional assistant, the lawsuit says. She was assigned to work with students with special needs. Miller began grooming A.L. in an after-school program, the lawsuit says, and took advantage of the social and emotional struggles A.L. was going through.
Miller would let A.L. walk her to her classes, visit her before and after school, and communicate with A.L on social media, according to the lawsuit. Some of the messages were sexual.
“This is not a single failure where something happened on one occasion and someone slipped through the cracks and was rehired,” said Steven T. Reich, A.L.’s attorney. “There were multiple failures here.”
Seattle Schools failed to properly document complaints made against Miller, Reich said. Miller lied on her application to work at Ballard and didn’t disclose she was let go from Roosevelt. District officials didn’t catch the omission, even though officials knew she was fired for crossing boundaries with students, he said.
Miller started sexually abusing A.L. in 2016 when she was 15 years old and did so weekly until the allegations came to light in 2018, according to the lawsuit. The abuse occurred in locker rooms, outside areas, in Miller’s office, and around the neighborhood.
“ … Miller’s grooming behavior and boundary violations were so ubiquitous that her direct supervisor, a teacher at the school, had to repeatedly caution her about professionalism and appropriate boundaries,” the lawsuit says. “On several occasions, Miller’s supervisor reported her concerns about the inappropriate relationship between Miller and A.L. to the school psychologist for Ballard High School. The supervisor was told by the psychologist to stay out of it and mind her own business.”
Ballard High administrators “were not privy to all the information,” Reich said. “The reason given to rehire her at Ballard — it was viewed as a mistake in judgment by a younger coach and they wanted to give her a second chance.”
Still, Dixon said, there were district officials who knew about the boundaries Miller repeatedly crossed with students.
This past school year Seattle students have rallied against the district’s handling of sexual harassment and assault complaints, and have demanded stronger sexual harassment policies. Last week the school board approved two new sexual harassment policies.
Although not all student demands were met, the policies mark a change in how the district is talking about and handling sexual harassment claims.