St. Mary's Prep teacher claims he was fired for reporting alleged student assault on retreat

The Detroit News

Orchard Lake Schools officials are facing a lawsuit from a former teacher who claims he was fired after reporting a student's assault by peers trying to force the teen into "naked bowling" and sexualized games during a retreat nearly two years ago.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court claims a student who attended St. Mary’s Preparatory on the West Bloomfield Township campus joined a school-sponsored retreat at the Columbiere Conference & Retreat Center in Clarkston in March 2019.

At night, other students "were engaging in inappropriate and sexualized 'games,'" including " 'Naked Bowling,' in which they would undress in the large locker room style shower, coat the shower with soap and water, and roll or throw a naked student onto the floor in order to topple the standing naked students acting as 'pins,' " the suit claims.

On the second night, as many as eight teens rushed to his room, "attempting to undress him and physically force him, naked, to engage in the sexualized 'games' they had discussed earlier that day.' 

The student fought back and "after several minutes of chaotic struggle ... the group relented and left," but he had to barricade his door to prevent another attack the next night, according to the document.

The youth told teacher Donald Ambrose after the trip.

On March 27, 2019, after a classmate told St. Mary's administrators, including Headmaster Bob Pyles, about the incident, the teen who allegedly was attacked was called to the office and "interrogated," according to the filing. 

Later, administrators met with Ambrose, a longtime teacher at St. Mary's; Pyles allegedly told him "the severity of the sexual assault ... ranked at about a '5' on a scale of 1 to 10," the suit said.

Pyles did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

After administrators "failed to take any effective action to investigate the March 20, 2019 assault or discipline any of the perpetrators," Ambrose sought out the Rev. Miroslaw Krol, chancellor of Orchard Lake Schools, on May 20, 2019, to discuss the attack and concerns about Pyles, the suit said.

Krol "reassured (the teacher) that he would not be terminated if he told him everything," the suit stated, but nine days later, Todd Covert, the Orchard Lake Schools' corporate executive officer, fired him, citing "parental complaints about ... not returning e-mails and an incident" involving a student he disciplined weeks earlier.

Neither Covert nor Krol responded to requests for comment Thursday.

The lawsuit claims the school officials violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids sex discrimination, by not protecting the teen "from a known risk of sex harassment and sexual violence and by failing to effectively investigate and take prompt remedial action" into the alleged assault.

Ambrose's lawyers argue the officials also violated Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by terminating him "because he complained of unlawful sex discrimination ..."  they said in the lawsuit.

In a statement Thursday, Stephen Gross, chair of the Orchard Lake Schools Board of Regents, said: “While it would be inappropriate to comment on the dismissal of any employee, there are multiple false allegations made in this lawsuit. We plan to present the truth in court."

He added: "The administration conducted an investigation immediately upon learning of these accusations. We are confident once this information is made public, it will prove the school acted in a completely appropriate manner. The safety of every student is our top priority at Orchard Lake Schools. We take any allegation of unsafe behavior or misconduct seriously and do not tolerate any behavior that jeopardizes the health and safety of any student.”

The suit seeks more than $75,000 in damages and other costs as well as reinstatement of Ambrose.

It comes more than a month after a separate lawsuit involving the Catholic institution.

In that case filed in December, Krol was accused of using his authority to engage sexual misconduct with subordinates and retaliation against them after they reported the alleged actions.