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Friday, Jan 18 2013 10:00 PM

Former teacher accuses principal of sexual harassment

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    Emerson Middle School Principal Kempton L. Coman has been sued along with the Bakersfield City School District by a former special education teacher alleging she was sexually harassed.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

A former special education teacher at Emerson Middle School in Bakersfield has filed a lawsuit that accuses Emerson's current principal of repeatedly making lewd propositions and showing her nude photos on his mobile phone.

Audra Etheridge, who taught at Emerson from 2004 to October of last year, filed the lawsuit against the Bakersfield City School District and Principal Kempton Coman Dec. 5 in Kern County Superior Court.

Coman allegedly engaged in a "severe and pervasive campaign" of sexual harassment from 2011 until Etheridge's resignation last fall to take a job in Ventura County, where she moved to get away from him, according to the complaint.

Coman begged Etheridge to have sex with him "approximately 30-50 times," even though she always said no; showed her mobile phone pictures of naked women he called his girlfriends, as well as nude pictures of himself; described his private parts and said what he'd like to do to her; and boasted how well he would treat her if they were together, according to the complaint.

Etheridge didn't report the alleged harassment initially because she had been a victim of harassment before and nothing came of it when she reported that problem, she said in her complaint.

The lawsuit names Coman individually and names the district, which it said "intentionally and knowingly permitted egregious sexual harassment...so intolerable that (Etheridge) was forced to resign from her position."

Moreover, the lawsuit contends Coman has behaved similarly in the past with other employees, although it doesn't name anyone or provide examples of specific incidents.

Etheridge seeks unspecified damages and legal costs, saying she has suffered emotional distress and humiliation and had to incur moving expenses and take a pay cut to escape the harassment, according to the complaint. She previously earned $62,000 a year with BCSD, according to the complaint.

Etheridge did not respond to an interview request placed through her attorney, Brent Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig declined to comment, saying the complaint speaks for itself.

The district did not make anyone available to answer questions Friday as requested through its spokesman, who wasn't aware of the lawsuit. Coman didn't return a telephone message left at his office.

The BCSD Human Resources Department declined to say when Coman was hired or how long he had been at Emerson even though such information is public record.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for March 30.

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