Sexual assault survivor calls for boycott of Children's Theatre Company

May 29, 2019 09:46 AM

A lawsuit that found Children's Theatre Company negligent for the sexual assault of a former student has now led to a boycott.

The woman who filed the suit, Laura Stearns, called for the boycott over the weekend after she says the theatre's attorneys indicated they may ask her to pay for their fees.

In late January, a jury found Children's Theater Company "generally negligent in the time period before" Stearns was sexually assaulted by a former CTC teacher in 1983.

RELATED: Jury finds Children's Theatre negligent in sexual abuse case

However, jurors stopped short of finding CTC liable for damages because it did not directly cause the assault of Laura Stearns.

Instead, the jury returned a $3.68 million verdict against former teacher Jason McLean.

At a hearing last Friday, lawyers for the theater asked a judge to determine the proper costs which the theater says it can request as the "prevailing party" under Minnesota law.
"Somebody over at Children's Theater, or several somebodys who are in charge over there, made the decision to come after the victim who proved their neglegence in a court of law," Stearns said.

According a document filed prior to Friday's hearing, the costs identified by Children's Theater Company come close to $300,000, which Stearns would be responsible for paying.

"I was not pursuing closing the theater or boycotting until they turned this judgement on me, and then it was like that's a personal attack to me," Stearns said.

In a statement released to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS , CTC says "Any decision about if CTC would seek to recover those costs from Ms. Stearns is for a later point ... and CTC hopes it never get to the point of making such a decision."

Stearns posted a reply on Facebook Saturday afternoon, calling for a boycott of Children's Theater Company.

Actor Jen Maren says she and her family will be boycotting CTC out of support for Stearns.

"At this point I will not be comfortable buying tickets and spending money there until they can acknowledge their portion in this, their part in this," Maren said.  "I will choose not to audition."

In its statement, CTC says it is in no way it "trying to blame the victim" but Stearns disagrees.

"That's exactly what they're doing," Stearns said.  "They're making me look like I'm the aggressor."

In the meantime, Stearns is encouraging anyone who does business with Children's Theater Company to spend their time and money someplace else.

So far, dozens of people on Stearns' Facebook page and Children's Theater Company's Facebook page indicated they will join the boycott.

"I think the reason it's gone viral and people are responding to it is because this is happening here and now, this day," Stearns said.  "Children's Theater just attacked a victim."

"I will stand with her," added Maren.  "I want to be on the right side of history."

Below is Children's Theatre Company's statement in its entirety:

Over the weekend, we've heard from several people regarding Laura Stearns' call for a boycott of the Theatre by artists, patrons and staff. With all respect to Ms. Stearns, we disagree that such an action is appropriate or deserved.

For those who may have a limited familiarity with what's at issue, in 2015 Ms. Stearns sued CTC and a former employee, Jason McLean, for sexually abusing her at his home in 1983 when she was a student of the Theatre. That case went to trial in January and a jury held McLean liable for the abuse Ms. Stearns suffered, awarding her more than $3.5 million in damages to be paid by McLean. The Theatre was found not liable on all counts for any of the harm done to Ms. Stearns by McLean.

Since then and despite the jury's verdict, Ms. Stearns and her attorney have chosen to continue their lawsuit against the Theatre by filing motions to overturn the verdict or to seek a new trial. When those motions are exhausted, they may yet choose to pursue an appeal of the verdict to an appellate court or even the Minnesota Supreme Court.

We learned of Ms. Stearns's abuse in December 2015. Since then, we have said that we believe Ms. Stearns's account of what happened to her in 1983. We support her desire to have the truth be known and justice done. We hope she is able to collect on the judgment against McLean. And, while we had hoped to resolve Ms. Stearns's lawsuit against CTC through a settlement process instead of through the courts, we respect Ms. Stearns's right to continue with her legal efforts.

Unfortunately, Ms. Stearns's decisions to continue with her legal efforts and her attorney's legal strategies consequently impose obligations on CTC. The hearing last week is one such example. Minnesota law makes clear that the prevailing party 'shall be' awarded its costs by the court. And CTC was the prevailing party against Ms. Stearns, just as Ms. Stearns was the prevailing party against McLean. To be absolutely clear, the Theatre has not asked Ms. Stearns, individually, to pay its costs, but instead asked the court to determine what the proper costs are in our case. In fact, last week our attorney could have, but did NOT, ask for a judgment against Ms. Stearns, and instead asked the court to determine what the proper cost is in our case. Any decision about if CTC would seek to recover those costs from Ms. Stearns is for a later point in this ongoing process. We hope fervently that we never get to the point of having to make such a decision.

In stating this, in no way are trying to "blame the victim" for where we find ourselves, but to make it clear that we have no desire to keep this lawsuit going. Unfortunately, as last week's hearing made clear, that choice is not ours. To the contrary, the motion Ms. Stearns objects to is a consequence of her (and her attorney's) decision to reject the jury's verdict. As always, we stand ready to end the legal process so that we can settle all remaining issues.

These proceedings are lengthy and complex. Ms. Stearns' case is one of several lawsuits concerning events from the 1970s and 1980s, and the confluence of those actions means we sometimes have to withhold comment or speak in broad rather than specific terms. We ask for the community's patience as we work to resolve all of the cases. Each one has a number of procedural steps and last Friday's hearing was one of those steps in Ms. Stearns' case. Even as we participate in that process, we acknowledge the pain the victims feel and have carried with them for decades. We have offered our apologies to each victim directly, and we are continuing to work with them respectfully and empathically to find a resolution to their cases.

Throughout this process and in every forum – face-to-face, between attorneys, in our filings, in court and in our public comments – we have tried to act with respect and empathy for Ms. Stearns and the other victims of abuse from the 1970s and early 1980s. For more than three years, we have met with these victims to hear their stories directly, to offer our apology and support, and to resolve their claims in a way that respects them and their experiences. Those efforts will continue, and we will not waver in the tone or the intent we bring to those conversations.

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Tim Vetscher

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