February 4, 2020
New York woman files suit alleging years of sexual abuse by former junior high music teacher
A Long Island, New York woman filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Suffolk County, alleging years of sexual abuse, including rape, by her 7th grade music teacher, Eugene Senzer, a current resident of Sumner County, Tenn. In addition to Senzer, Greenlawn, N.Y.’s Oldfield Middle School, Harborfields Central School District, and the district’s Board of Education, are named in the suit and accused of fostering an environment that allowed the abuse to occur.
The suit, filed Feb. 3, 2020, under New York’s recently enacted Child Victims Act, asserts claims of sexual battery, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, emotional distress and other claims under New York law. The suit also asserts a nuisance claim for the defendants’ alleged failure to properly notify authorities of the unlawful acts. Motley Rice attorney Daniel Lapinski, Nye Stirling Hale & Miller LLP lawyer Tim Hale (CA), The Sweet Law Firm lawyer Benjamin J. Sweet (PA) and Berger Montague attorney Michaela Wallin (NY) represent the plaintiff, Donna DePasquale, 58.
The suit alleges that Senzer, who was a yearbook advisor and choral director in Oldfield’s music department, began to groom Mrs. DePasquale for abuse when she was in the 7th grade. Senzer appealed to her love of music to draw her attention, using her as an accompanist, helping her select songs for auditions, and asking her to listen to music with him, according to the suit. At times he would compliment her clothing, and praise her body while criticizing other girls, she alleges, while normalizing sexual talk and initiating conversations about sex and drugs under the false pretense that the conversations were educational. Senzer’s alleged inappropriate behavior later progressed to improper and abusive touching as he often lured the girl to his office and asked to massage her or for her to rub his back, according to the suit. When she allegedly reported Senzer’s behavior early on to an agent of the school, Senzer’s employers seemingly took no action.
Rumors of Senzer abusing female students were common at Oldfield, the suit claims. He allegedly openly displayed photos in his office of underage girls in various stages of undress. Mrs. DePasquale alleges that once Senzer’s wife, also a faculty member, unexpectedly walked in on Mrs. DePasquale massaging Senzer and angrily asked to speak with her husband in private, but that no report was made to law enforcement and he was neither investigated nor disciplined for his behavior.
Mrs. DePasquale alleges Senzer continued to manipulate her even after she left Oldfield to attend high school and that Senzer raped her when she was a 10th grader. The school and the school district are alleged to have worked collectively to conceal knowledge of the abuse and to have failed in their obligation to protect their students.
“What Mrs. DePasquale alleges Eugene Senzer did to her is unthinkable,” said Motley Rice member attorney Daniel Lapinski. “Despite seemingly knowing Senzer was abusing a student, we believe officials with the school and district – whose job it was to help and protect – failed to take steps to make it stop. By filing this lawsuit, Mrs. DePasquale hopes to create more awareness surrounding the horrifying acts she recalls taking place at Oldfield Middle School, and to increase awareness of childhood sexual abuse nationwide by encouraging schools and other organizations to implement policies that protect their students from abuse.”
“This case would not be possible if not for New York’s Child Victims Act and emerging laws in states throughout the country that recognize the severity of childhood sexual abuse and how difficult it can be for victims to come forward, even well into adulthood. By extending the number of years available for victims to bring civil claims, these laws will help victims hold offenders and enablers of abuse accountable,” said Motley Rice member attorney Daniel Lapinski.
The case is Donna DePasquale v. Harborfields Central School District, et al., in the Supreme Court of the State of New York County of Suffolk.
Motley Rice LLC, a South Carolina Limited Liability Company, is engaged in the New Jersey practice of law through Motley Rice New Jersey LLC. Esther Berezofsky attorney responsible for New Jersey practice.