Ex-student says in lawsuit teacher targeted her for sex
Pontiac — An Oakland Circuit judge has been asked to dismiss a lawsuit by a graduate of a Madison Heights parochial school who claims she was exposed to sexual demands of a male teacher.
“Jane Doe” says she was a 17-year-old honors student at Bishop Foley Catholic High School in 2008 when her art teacher, Richard Fischer, allegedly initiated a relationship with her that encompassed inappropriate teacher-student physical contact on and off school grounds. She claims Fischer annually targeted and manipulated underage female students to be what he called his “girlfriend.”
It wasn’t until last November — nearly eight years later — that the teenager reported the matter to police after hearing the parent of another student had complained of Fischer to a guidance counselor in 2006 and nothing was done. “Jane Doe” said she was so ashamed she had never told anyone of the alleged sexual misconduct.
She is now suing the school, Fischer, school officials and the Archdiocese of Detroit claiming her grades suffered during the abuse, she was left traumatized and has with trouble trusting authority figures and future romantic partners. Lawyers for the defendants argue the statute of limitations has passed and the suit is no longer valid.
Lawyers for the school are also looking to delay turning over documents including employment records, policies on suspected abuse and minutes of meetings in which allegations of sexual misconduct were discussed, until a judge made a ruling in the case.
Denis Shmidt, an attorney for Jane Doe, said a May 15, 2017, trial date is set.
Multiple attempts by The Detroit News to reach Fischer were unsuccessful and he said through a former relative he was not interested in talking to The Detroit News.
Fischer’s attorney, Marie Garian, also did not return phone calls or emails. School officials also could not be reached for comment.
“The Archdiocese and Bishop Foley High School are aware of a recent complaint against Mr. Fischer and we are reviewing it,” said Joe Kohn, archdiocese spokesman. “As the matter is in the courts we are going to need to respond through the courts.”
Madison Heights Police Detective Jeremy Dixon said he investigated the November 2015 complaint, which did not result in criminal charges.
“School officials denied to me there had ever been any concerns about him and there was no hard evidence,” he said. “Computer records are gone or can’t be located. He (Fischer) declined an invitation to be interviewed.”
Dixon said he submitted a report to the prosecutor’s office last January but no criminal warrants were issued.
Oakland County chief assistant prosecuting attorney Paul Walton said it was “never a question of the veracity” of “Jane Doe’s” complaints, but rather several problems in prosecuting the allegations.
“After so much time had passed there were problems of the alleged victim being able to provide specific dates and locations of offenses,” he said. “There were indications that some involvement possibly extended into July — when she had graduated and was out of school — when there would not have been any issue of a teacher-student relation which violates law.”
In Michigan, the age of consent is 16 years old but extends to 17 if the sexual partner is a teacher, school employee or other authority figure. The alleged sexual activity did not involve penetration, but even a question of fourth degree criminal sexual conduct (fondling) would be moot because the statute of limitations for that offense is six years, Walton said
“So much of this boiled down to hearsay,” he said. “Even the reported exchange of emails could not be determined because there is no longer a record of them.”
There were jurisdictional problems, too, Walton said, because it could not be determined if the alleged criminal activity off school grounds occurred in Madison Heights or Clawson, he said.
Crossing the line
According to the lawsuit, Fischer, who was also the girls’ cross-country coach, offered in 2008 to be the teenager’s “mentor” and help her deal with her eating disorder, which he had learned about from other students.
In March and April of that year, Fischer began paying an “inappropriate amount of attention” to the teen and after several weeks confided he was a “sex addict” and attracted to her, the suit says. Fischer also disclosed to her he had a prior dating relationship with another Foley student between 2004 and 2006, and when she graduated and went to college it “broke his heart.”
Fischer began sending “Jane Doe” emails from his school account which “became increasingly more sexual and explicit” according to the complaint. Between April and June, Fischer touched and kissed the teen inside an art supplies closet. He also arranged other meetings outside school, including at area coffee houses and at a secluded spot where he allegedly fondled her breasts and licked her chest, according to the complaint.
The teen declined Fischer’s invitations, made in person and emails, to sneak into his house for sex while his wife was away.
“Jane Doe” said that in June 2008, Fischer told her that on orders of school officials, they could no longer see each other.
The teen said a few months after graduation she ran into Fischer and he told her he was “trying to get better,” still happily married, and had “found God,” according to the lawsuit. He reconfirmed his meetings with school officials over their relationship for which he said he had received a “slap on the wrist.”
A duty to report misconduct
“Jane Doe” said in the suit she only learned in November 2015 that a parent of the other girlfriend had reported the earlier relationship to a school counselor who subsequently dismissed it with “she had better things to worry about” in preparing students for college.
Angered by that information, “Jane Doe” reported her situation to police.
The Detroit News learned Fischer left Foley in 2012 and had been employed, until recently, at Detroit Catholic Central, an all-boys high school. The reason for his leaving Catholic Central was not known.
The lawsuit, assigned to Judge Michael Warren, alleges Foley officials “had a duty” to file reports on Fischer’s 2006 behavior to the archdiocese and to police, but instead “chose to conceal the complaints and reports of Fischer’s misconduct and protect their own rather than protect the young and innocent children entrusted to their care. Had Bishop Foley and archdiocese officials acted appropriately, plaintiff, and untold others, would never have suffered Fischer’s abuse.”
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and to be determined money damages.
It’s the second time a Bishop Foley teacher has been accused of having an inappropriate relations with a student. Spanish teacher Kathryn Ronk was sentenced to six to 15 years in prison last year after pleading guilty to having sex with a teenager in a school classroom and in a car in Sterling Heights.