Seattle Prep agrees to pay $2.425 million settlement for student sexually abused by teacher, coach Jeff Pietz

By Darrell Cochran Law

SEATTLE – March 6, 2024 – She was groomed, harassed and sexually abused by her teacher and former softball coach throughout her high school career. And after years of fighting to discredit her and avoid accepting any responsibility, Seattle Preparatory School has now agreed to pay $2.425 million to settle claims of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, negligence and other damages against the student, who is remaining unnamed to protect her identity.
The settlement was announced by the victim’s attorney Darrell Cochran, Founding Partner, and Senior Associate Bridget Grotz of Pfau Cochran Vertitis Amala law.

Video: Darrell Cochran details Seattle Prep abuse case

The survivor’s abuser Jeff Pietz was a teacher, coach and Athletic Director at Seattle Prep from 1992-2006. He had continuous and unfettered access to students and sexually groomed, targeted, harassed, and ultimately abused several girls, including her.
The survivor in this case was subject to his disproportionate attention for over three years. By her senior year, she had risen to captain of the softball team, where Pietz was the head coach and then Athletic Director.

Pietz was frequently flirtatious and overly attentive to the girl. He would regularly isolate her for one-on-one time unrelated to sports or school, spending time calling and texting her late into the evening. He attended non-sanctioned team bonding events often positioning himself as a friend to his students. These techniques are textbook boundary violations that are essential to the grooming process, which ultimately is the desire to give a vulnerable young person a sense that they are special and receive special privileges. Once those privileges are established, the abuser will take the grooming a step further, and in the case of Jeff Pietz he began engaging in widespread emotional manipulation of the girl.

“I remember one practice deciding not to ride shotgun next to him in the van, which had become “expected,” she said. His mood completely changed. Usually gregarious and joking, he was stoic and cold, taking his bad mood out on the entire team all practice. “As the team captain, I felt responsible for the well-being of my teammates and wanted to fix whatever I perceived to be hurting them. I learned that I was not allowed to distance myself from him. So I went back to riding in the front seat.”

The grooming ultimately led to blatant boundary crossing, sexual advances, and sexual contact.

During the summer of 2003, she worked at the “Ready, Set, Go!” Seattle Preparatory sponsored program that Pietz directed, where he continued to sexually abuse her. As most children do, the survivor felt complicit in the relationship between the two. Pietz used that as a weapon against her, threatening to expose their relationship if she tried to reject his requests to meet. Anytime she tried to distance herself from Pietz, he would use emotional manipulation to ensure continued access and abuse.

“Seattle Prep authorities knew Pietz was a danger to female students before and during the time our client attended the school. And they had to have known all the dangers inherent with teachers selectively sexually targeting students,” Cochran added.

This all took place at the height of the notorious Mary Kay Letourneau scandal involving a teacher grooming and abusing a young male student. And this wasn’t the first time Seattle Prep had dealt with a sexually abusive teacher.

Cochran said: “Given all the horrific abuse coming to light in the Catholic Church – at the same time the entire world was focused on the Letourneau scandal in school hallways – it is doubly troubling that Seattle Prep stuck its head in the sand on all this.”

“The ongoing abuse I suffered at Seattle Prep has had a devastating impact on my life – then, after, now and will going forward.” she said. “Seattle Prep leaders did everything possible for years to bury the truth about the abuse and what they knew. They did all they could to destroy me just to protect their reputation. I can’t tell you how many times I had to remind myself throughout the past few years while trying to find accountability that I was just ‘simply telling the truth.’ I was overwhelmingly made to feel like the bad guy, and Pietz and Seattle Prep the victims.”

In 2006, as there were growing concerns about Pietz’s behaviors with students, Pietz quietly resigned from Seattle Prep and began working at Lakeside High School in the Nine Mile Falls School District in Spokane where he remained until the survivor brought her truth forward to authorities in late 2020.
Recently, his teaching credentials were suspended by the State, but the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction failed to permanently revoke them despite overwhelming proof of his inappropriate behavior and abuse, including four previous recommendations to revoke his license entirely by the OSPI investigating team and Washington State educator appellate board based on their investigations of this survivors abuse and the abuse of another former Seattle Prep student.

The survivor initially came forward in hopes the school would accept responsibility, make changes and protect others from abuse.
She remains angry, heartbroken and traumatized none of that happened, and that Pietz could be allowed to teach – and abuse – again. While the school agreed to pay the multi-millon dollar settlement, Seattle Prep leaders have outright refused to admit any wrongdoing. She is certain school leaders offered the settlement to avoid a trial that would have further exposed their wrongdoing.

Cochran added: “what made us most upset is what they did to her after she came forward. Among other things, she had to endure hours of examination by defense attorneys hell bent on destroying her reputation”, Cochran said.

“The school’s actions underscore just how cruel and devastating the process of reporting abuse is for survivors,” she said. “The term I’ve come to learn is ‘Institutional Betrayal’. When an institution you are supposed to trust, such as your school, betrays you in the worst possible way, it compounds the trauma you’re already working through. And they know that. It honestly works in Prep’s favor because other victims simply can’t endure their life being so tarnished in the wake of telling their truth. As I close this chapter, I’m walking away with a new awareness and urgency that the entire experience and process for survivors seeking accountability and justice needs an overhaul.”

She added: “Less than 20% of women report their sexual assaults, namely because they don’t want to deal with the shame and humiliation and being retraumatized by the legal/judicial system and because they know nothing will change. And to experience that firsthand has been harrowing. I’ve always been someone who has a strong moral conviction to speak up for the right thing and believe that each one of us can make a change. Of course I’m grateful to receive a monetary settlement, but it’s hard not to feel defeated against my other goals of ensuring protection for current students and hoping to see improvements in the culture Seattle Prep has created and maintained for the last 20 years. It’s no wonder so few victims of abuse come forward. And if the abuse isn’t being exposed, then what will dissuade abusers from continuing to abuse?”

“Seattle Prep has failed to accept responsibility. They have refused to offer an apology to me or any of the other victims. They have failed to take clear, actionable and transparent steps to change the culture they created and perpetuated. Horrible abuse happened under their watch and tragically will likely continue,” she said.

“Predators like my abuser will always exist, but they will especially thrive in institutions like Seattle Prep that choose to protect their reputations more than the students they claim to serve,” she continued. “Significant work and change needs to be made at a systemic level, but also specifically with leaders of the institutions themselves.”

“I feel responsible to continue the work that will help protect more young people from harm and also protect survivors when they begin their healing journey. And I urge the Seattle Prep community to ask serious questions of their current administration, dig for the truth, understand the egregiousness of what’s going on, and demand change for their sons and daughters,” she concluded.

According to Grotz, “we see in a lot of our cases that sexual predators commonly target places that children or youth frequent, including institutions like schools, camps, and sport organizations. These institutions have an extremely important responsibility to take preventative measures and implement appropriate policies, trainings, and practices to help protect children and youth from abuse.

“They also have a responsibility to take reports of grooming, boundary invasions, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse seriously. It is our hope that in bringing these cases to light, institutions will implement changes to better protect their members, will increase transparency around issues of sexual abuse, and will work to change their culture and practices around reporting sexual abuse to better support survivors,” Grotz said.