Abused student files lawsuit against CUSD and cafeteria worker

A former Claremont High School student is suing the cafeteria worker who abused him, as well as the Claremont Unified School District for failing to protect him.

The plaintiff, named in the lawsuit as “John SE Doe,” was 15 years old at the time of the abuse suffered from former Claremont High School cafeteria worker Vanessa Antonia Tinoco. Ms. Tinoco, 33, pled no contest in 2014 to unlawful sexual contact with a minor in December 2014 and was sentenced to a year in county jail.

In the lawsuit filed on April 5, the plaintiff, represented by attorneys John Manly and Vince Finaldi of Manly, Stewart & Finaldi in Irvine, contends the district either knew or should have known about the abuse that took place.

The lawsuit states the boy was victimized while under the supervision of Ms. Tinoco during a “school experience” special education program in the cafeteria. Ms. Tinoco began a process of grooming the victim by, “allowing the plaintiff to eat lunch for free, discussing increasingly personal topics, such as her marriage and children, with the plaintiff, exchanging phone numbers and holding the plaintiff over in the cafeteria into his lunch break,” the lawsuit says.

Ms. Tinoco also sent nude pictures of herself to the teen via Snapchat and told the teen to reply with nude photos of himself, according to the lawsuit. She then threatened to hurt the teenager if he ever told anyone about the sexual relationship, claiming he would “get into severe trouble and [Ms. Tinoco] would lose her job,” the lawsuit says.

The relationship, however, was not a secret among the cafeteria workers at Claremont High School, the lawsuit alleges, noting the boy and Ms. Tinoco would regularly join other cafeteria employees during off-campus activities. Ms. Tinoco would shuttle the plaintiff to and from campus, and would walk with him to her car in full view of administrative offices.

The suit alleges that the head of the CHS cafeteria department at the time even confided to the victim’s mother that he suspected something inappropriate was going on between Ms. Tinoco and the boy, but did not say anything.

The lawsuit claims Ms. Tinoco had exhibited previous troubling behavior with other students, including swearing as well as discussing sex, drugs and alcohol with eighth graders. The district, the lawsuit noted, should have been aware of these behaviors.

The lawsuit goes further into CUSD’s alleged role, saying that the district kept Ms. Tinoco employed as a cafeteria worker even though she was “known to be a child molester.”

“Defendants failed to take reasonable steps and/or implement reasonable safeguards to avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct by [Ms. Tinoco] in the future, including but not limited to: preventing abuse of plaintiff by [Ms. Tinoco], avoiding placement of [Ms. Tinoco] in functions or environments in which unsupervised contact with other children is an inherent part of that function or environment,” the suit said. “Instead, defendants ignored and/or covered up sexual abuse of plaintiff and others by [Ms. Tinoco] that had already occurred.”

Not only did the defendants fail to take reasonable steps, the suit goes further, alleging that the district “failed to report and did hide and conceal from students, parents, care givers, teachers, law enforcement authorities, civil authorities and others, the true facts and relevant information necessary to bring [Ms. Tinoco] to justice for the sexual misconduct she committed with minors, as well as protect their fiduciaries, including plaintiff.”

The now 19-year-old man is suing for negligence; negligent supervision; negligent hiring and retention; negligent failure to warn, train or educate; constructive fraud; intentional infliction of emotional distress; sexual assault; sexual battery; sexual harassment and gender violence.

He is also demanding a jury trial in the case, where “past, present and future” damages will be determined, according to the lawsuit.

When reached for comment Monday, April 10, Kevin Ward, CUSD’s assistant superintendent of human relations, stated he could not comment on active litigation. He did note, however, the district had not yet been formally served a copy of the lawsuit.

Matthew Bramlett



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