- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - An Oregon teenager sexually abused by a high school teacher has sought millions of dollars in a lawsuit against the school that employed the teacher.

The complaint filed Tuesday on behalf of the 19-year-old woman asserts Western Mennonite School administrators hired Matthew Yoder despite a previous accusation of sexual abuse and continued to employ him amid concerns about his behavior with female students.

Yoder, 32, was arrested in 2012. He pleaded guilty last year to three counts of sexual abuse and was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. The state Department of Corrections says his earliest release date is in June 2016.

“This case will show that even organizations with strong commitment to pacifism can have a blind spot for sexual violence and exploitation of children,” said Stephen Crew, a member of the law firm representing the young woman identified in the lawsuit as “M.L.”

Head of School Paul Schultz said Tuesday he was not at Western Mennonite when Yoder worked there, and an attorney told him not to comment on pending litigation. Also named as a defendant is the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, the regional governing body that founded the school in 1945.

The private Mennonite school is located on 45 acres of wooded property outside Salem. Its website touts small class sizes and notes that international students represent 14 percent of its high school population.

Lawyers for the victim say she was 15 when sexually abused by Yoder, then 27, and the teacher used threats to coerce her into silence.

The woman now lives and works in Salem. Her attorneys say she suffers from anxiety-induced migraine headaches and neck pain, as well as depression and other psychological problems.

“Though my abuser has been punished, it was the school’s policy that allowed this to happen,” M.L. said in a statement provided by her lawyers. “Ultimately it was their job as a school to protect me and they failed to do so.”

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Follow Steven DuBois at https://twitter.com/pdxdub

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