Mother of disabled girl who was allegedly raped in Starbucks bathroom sues company, school district

Jan 24, 2024, 8:18 AM

Students arrive for classes at Taylor Allderdice High School in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of P...

Students arrive for classes at Taylor Allderdice High School in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. The mother of an intellectually disabled girl who allegedly was led from school grounds by three male students and sexually assaulted in a Starbucks bathroom and a nearby empty building has filed a lawsuit Wednesday, Jan 24, 2024, accusing Starbucks, Pittsburgh Public Schools and a property management company of negligence. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The mother of an intellectually disabled girl who was allegedly led from school grounds by three male students and sexually assaulted in a Starbucks bathroom and a nearby empty building filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Starbucks, Pittsburgh Public Schools and a property management company of negligence.

The lawsuit alleges that school personnel at Taylor Allderdice High School failed to provide adequate supervision and care of the girl during school hours and during transportation to and from school. It alleges that both the property management company 101 Kappa Drive Associates #1 and Starbucks managers were aware of the increasing crime issues near their businesses and failed to provide security or training for employees on how to respond to and report criminal activities.

“Pittsburgh Public Schools failed to create a safe environment for my client to go to and from school when it knew that she needed one. And Starbucks and Kappa failed to protect my client from the violence of others when they knew their businesses were causing criminal activity to occur. The painful result was her sexual assault.” said attorney Alec Wright, who represents the girl and her mother in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the then 15-year-old girl, whose name was withheld in the lawsuit, was led off campus by three male students in October 2022. The lawsuit alleges that Starbucks employees witnessed the male students taking turns entering the bathroom with the girl and did not intervene. The alleged assailants then took her to an empty building managed by Kappa, where the third boy sexually assaulted the girl, according to the lawsuit filed in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

At first, the girl was unable to communicate to her mother what happened to her. But days later the mother said she was notified by the school that the girl was found crying at a lunchroom table alone because of a rumor that three boys had sex with her. The mother said she met with school officials who were then notified that the incident occurred at Starbucks, and not at the school as officials initially suspected.

The mother took the girl for a medical exam that she said showed positive signs of sexual assault. She reported the assault to police, but more than a year later police have not filed charges.

A spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety said the case had been closed and that the county district attorney’s office had determined it would not pursue charges.

A message seeking comment was sent to corporate communications for Seattle-based Starbucks. A phone number was not available for Kappa, but The Associated Press left a message with a real estate company that handles rentals at several Kappa properties.

A spokesperson for Pittsburgh Public Schools said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

Pittsburgh Public Schools provides public transportation bus passes to high schoolers who live within 2 miles (3 kilometers) of their school and to younger students who live within 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometers) of their school. At Taylor Allderdice High School, district officials had negotiated with Pittsburgh’s public transportation authority to move the public transit bus stop that many students use to the location in front of the Starbucks.

The girl’s mother notified school officials that her daughter would need help adjusting to high school and with taking public transportation to school, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit notes the girl’s IQ during evaluation was determined to be around 65, and then below 60 on a second test, placing her in the lowest 1% of students intellectually.

However, the lawsuit alleges that during her first months at the high school, the girl was left unsupervised and allowed to either wander the halls or hide in the bathroom during her classes. The tardy and attendance policy was not enforced because of her disabilities, and staff failed to address her leaving class or provide any safety monitors for her during school hours or en route to and from the bus stop, according the to the lawsuit.

“It just makes me feel angry to know that there was such little oversight or protection for my daughter. If she leaves in the morning to go to school, then she should return home from school safe,” the girl’s mother said. “Taylor Allderdice let her be lured off campus, and Starbucks let her be attacked in its bathrooms. It’s all just so frustrating and disheartening. It’s just very hard to describe.”

The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault or abuse unless they come forward publicly. The names of both the girl and her mother were withheld from the lawsuit to protect the girl’s identity.

The lawsuit alleges the male teens were given unrestricted access to the girl when they were able to lead her off campus to the Starbucks bus stop, where school officials did not provide any safety monitors during prime transportation hours despite knowing about increased incidents of student-based violence and other negative activities.

The month before the sexual assault occurred, a large group of students got into a fight at the bus stop. A police officer was injured while trying to break up the fight and police shocked two students with Tasers during the incident.

Owners of businesses in the same building as the Starbucks have reported harassment of customers, a storefront window being broken, students challenging business owners to fights and other issues with drugs and vandalism. At least one business owner has asked the school district to move the bus stop during school board meetings.

The lawsuit alleges that Starbucks and Kappa failed to respond to the widely known issues with crime, violence and mischief by not creating policies or conducting trainings for employees on how to keep themselves or patrons safe, and by not providing security measures like guards during high traffic times.

The lawsuit alleges that Starbucks employees allowed students largely unrestricted access to its bathrooms partly because the students increased the store’s sales.

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Mother of disabled girl who was allegedly raped in Starbucks bathroom sues company, school district