A Real Class Act

What happens when four women accuse a high school principal of sexual harassment? So far, not much.

Miami Northwestern Senior High School principal William E. Clarke III is facing two federal sexual harassment lawsuits from female school employees under his supervision. In addition, sexual harassment complaints against Clarke have been filed with the school district by two other female Northwestern employees. The four cases have overlapped and intertwined in such a way that one administrator noted that Clark was the subject of a "pattern of allegations."

Yet after four formal complaints, a flurry of correspondence among administrators (including the school district superintendent), and even direct conversations among administrators and Clarke, only one of these four women has had her allegations investigated. And that investigation concluded there was "insufficient evidence" that Clarke had harassed the woman.

Attorneys for two of the women now say that in treating these cases as unrelated events, the school district failed to see the larger picture. And a sordid picture it is, with allegations that Clarke was repeatedly propositioning women to have sex with him and that he was openly carrying on an extramarital affair with another school employee.

"The school board has been on notice as to all of the allegations made against Clarke," says Cristina Saenz, an attorney representing Sonja Renee Miller, one of the women who claims to have been victimized by Clarke's sexual advances. "They knew, but instead of protecting my client, they chose to ignore it."

Miller, 31 years old, is a clerical worker. Jacqueline Hazel, 44 years old, is a teacher/counselor. These women each filed separate suits against both Clarke and the school board. The lawsuits claim that the 50-year-old principal regularly tried to pressure them into having sex with him, and that he retaliated when they refused. Hazel declined to comment for this story. Miller, after initially agreeing to an interview, also declined.

In their suits, both Hazel and Miller are asking for monetary damages as well as Clarke's removal as principal of Northwestern. The Hazel case is scheduled for trial in September. Miller's is slated for March 1999. School officials have not yet investigated the other two complaints.

Clarke declined to comment on any of allegations. "I'm just going to leave it alone," he says. Clarke's attorney, W. George Allen of Fort Lauderdale, did not return phone calls seeking comment. School board attorney Patricia Bass (who, along with her supervisor Phyllis Douglas, is representing both the school board Clarke) also would not comment. But in written responses to the lawsuits, the school board and Clarke deny every alleged incident of sexual harassment.

District spokesman Henry Fraind says that the administration takes all claims of sexual harassment seriously. "But it can't just be word of mouth," he adds, "you have to make some supportable type of allegation. Most of the time when someone comes out and [makes allegations] out of the clear blue sky, these are investigated and are thrown out."

Before arriving at Northwestern, his alma mater, in 1995, Clarke, a 28-year administrator, had been a principal for eight years, most recently at Brownsville Middle School. When he took the job at Northwestern, Jacqueline Hazel was working as a counselor and also earned $3000 per year planning extracurricular activities. Sonja Miller was Clarke's secretary.

According to Hazel's lawsuit, Clarke's harassment of her began almost immediately upon his arrival at Northwestern, which located at 7007 NW Twelfth Avenue in Miami. She claims he "repeatedly propositioned [her] to have sexual intercourse." After she refused him several times, she asserts, he "admonished her that she would 'regret waiting so long.'"

In a sworn deposition, Hazel describes other salacious comments: "He'd say, 'Oh, you look so good today,' or 'You have pretty legs,' or 'When are you going to give me a chance?'"

She also recounts an incident from the fall of 1995: "Clarke had offered me hundreds of dollars -- he had a wad of hundred-dollar bills. He said to me, 'Is this enough money for you?' I told him he didn't have enough money to buy me. And then another staff member, [assistant principal Sam Johnson], said, 'He don't want to buy you. He wants to borrow you.'" Clarke laughed, she alleges.

In October 1995, Sonja Miller claims, she too became an unwilling target of Clarke's affections. Her lawsuit describes how Clarke "voiced his sexual fantasies about [her], telling her he wanted to go to bed with her," and told her "once she had sex with him, [she] would never go back to her husband." Saenz, Miller's attorney, says her client punched Clarke in the stomach on more than one occasion to make him stop.

Hazel, who was also spurning Clarke, remembers one early exchange: "Mr. Clarke actually said to me, 'So, what are you going to do, press sexual harassment charges against me?' I said, 'Mr. Clarke, don't play.' He said, 'Oh, it would be my word against yours.'"

Hazel's lawsuit contends that at least one female Northwestern staffer had succumbed to Clarke's advances, and had benefited financially. For the 1995-96 school year, Clarke gave Richelle Thomas Lee, a 29-year-old member of Northwestern's School-to-Work staff, two supplemental positions worth more than $2000 per year, and her own office -- after the two of them became romantically involved, Hazel's suit alleges. (Clarke is married to Poinciana Park Elementary School principal Cynthia Clarke, who is 48 years old.) Though Lee's ex-husband Vincent testified that she admitted having the relationship, neither Clarke nor Richelle Lee, who now works at Turner Technical High School, acknowledges it. (Lee did not return phone calls requesting comment.)

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