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School district settles sexual harassment lawsuit
by Holly Coombs holly@ironcountytoday.com
Mar 27, 2017 | 957 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CEDAR CITY--Eight Cedar Middle School employees collectively received a $340,000 settlement after suing the Iron County School District in federal court with the claim they were subject to years of sexual harassment.

The female employees--six teachers, a teacher’s aide and an office secretary — filed a lawsuit last year in U.S. District Court against the school district, Cedar Middle School Principal Kendall Benson, Assistant Principal Trent Nielsen and school counselor Samuel Naim El-Halta, according to the lawsuit. All three were employees at Cedar Middle School at the time. Benson has since retired and El-Halta was terminated following a police investigation, which later led to criminal conviction in 2016. Nielsen currently works at the middle school.

El-Hata counseled seventh and eighth graders at the middle school, where he began in 2007, and held a supervisory position over the women. He talked to the women about their looks, attire and made comments that became increasingly inappropriate and escalated requests for sexual favors, being directed to each plaintiff, according to the lawsuit.

When the behavior was reported to Benson and Nielsen, the administrators’ reaction to the women was laughter and claims that they were “overreacting,” as well as commenting that the women were “asking for it” because of the clothing they wore.

The administrators, at most, told El-Halta to stop, according to the lawsuit, but never investigated the complaints, disciplined or stopped the harassment.

On Friday, Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney’s comment concerning the settlement was brief.

“Only comment I have to say is that the case was resolved,” Dulaney said.

El-Halta was fired in November 2014 after the Cedar City Police Department learned about his access to porn on school grounds, and in February 2015 he was charged in 5th District Court with seven accounts of sexual battery for his behavior towards the women, as well as 10 counts of accessing pornography while on school property, all class A misdemeanors.

In January 2016, he pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, according to court documents.

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