Deerfield Academy settles child sexual abuse claim involving longtime athletics employee

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 07-27-2023 7:54 PM

DEERFIELD — Standing outside Deerfield Academy, the director of a nonprofit assisting sexual abuse survivors and a lawyer present on a Zoom call announced the settlement of a credible sexual abuse claim regarding an Athletics Department member at the private school.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian announced Tuesday that he settled a childhood sex abuse claim with the school on behalf of a victim who alleged longtime Deerfield Academy Athletics Department employee Norman Therien sexually abused him in the athletic stockroom when he was 8 or 9 years old, in approximately 1991 or 1992. The victim was never a Deerfield Academy student, but he was the child of a school employee and was living on campus at the time.

“My client, who is a brave and courageous survivor, was concerned about the healing of sexual abuse victims and the safety of children and I admire him greatly,” Garabedian said. “We settled my client’s claim in the low six figures, so that my client could gain a degree of validation and move on with his life.”

Jessica Day, Deerfield Academy spokesperson, shared a statement from the school, stating the school’s trustees and Garabedian reached a settlement on the allegations, which came after the school engaged former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court John M. Greaney to lead an independent investigation of the 3-decade-old alleged incident.

“Upon receiving this historical allegation in March 2022 via our independently operated whistleblower hotline, we informed local law enforcement and met with the employee who was the subject of the allegation, immediately placing him on leave,” the statement reads. “Based on Judge Greaney’s findings, we ended the individual’s employment.”

Attempts to contact Therien were unsuccessful.

Garabedian, appearing via Zoom, was joined outside the school Tuesday by Robert Hoatson, co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, a New Jersey nonprofit that assists sexual abuse survivors and their families.

This is the first time Therien has been publicly accused of sexual assault, according to Hoatson. Therien worked at Deerfield Academy for more than 40 years, from 1974 to 2022, and was a beloved member of the athletics community at the school, according to a 2014 story celebrating Therien’s tenure in The Deerfield Scroll, the student newspaper.

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Garabedian said his client reported the abuse to him in early 2022 and the school initiated an investigation, which resulted in the termination of Therien’s employment with the school in August of that year, according to a copy of a letter shared by Garabedian and Day. Day said the letter, which was signed by Head of School John Austin and Deerfield Academy board of trustees Chair Leila Govi, was shared with all current and former students, staff and parents/guardians.

“Judge Greaney’s investigation is now complete, and, finding the allegation to be credible, we have ended Mr. Therien’s employment,” Austin wrote. “As head of school, nothing is more important to me than the safety and well-being of children in our care. These are the foundation on which all of our work with young people is built.”

Tuesday’s statement said the school “goes to great lengths to build a warm, vibrant, and above all, safe environment for the youth in our care” and that Deerfield Academy has implemented several policies and initiatives to protect the kids on campus.

“For more than a decade, we have proactively implemented numerous and overlapping safeguards to protect students, including protocols for reporting boundary violations and the careful, judicious investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct,” the statement reads. “In addition, in consultation with outside experts, we regularly review our policies and procedures regarding adult boundaries and sexual misconduct, and we conduct training for all employees and students to ensure that they have the knowledge and support to identify and report inappropriate behavior of any kind.”

Garabedian has represented several other sexual abuse victims at Deerfield Academy, including at least four alleging they were abused by former teacher Peter G. Hindle. The Boston-based attorney has also represented abuse victims in the Boston Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal.

Hoatson encourages any other victims to come forward.

“If you were sexually abused here at Deerfield, or anywhere else, please come forward,” he said, “because silence kills and revealing the story allows you to recover.”

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