This story has been updated.
SANTA CLARA — Mission College has agreed to pay $7.6 million to settle a lawsuit from a physically and mentally disabled woman that says the school failed to protect her from an instructor charged with raping and sexually assaulting her, according to the woman’s attorneys.
The plaintiff, whose name is withheld in a criminal complaint, alleged that former instructor Raymond Lawrence Ruiz groomed her for as long as two years before an encounter where he took her to a campus restroom, pulled her off her wheelchair, and raped her. She is referred to only as Jane Doe in her lawsuit.
“Imagine this young lady being wheeled into a restroom, knocked off, can’t do anything, and being so helpless,” said plaintiff attorney Mark Boskovich. “The assault itself is so egregious. It makes for a tragic story.”
Ruiz, a 71-year-old San Jose resident, was an instructor at the Santa Clara-based college’s defunct Program for Students With Developmental Disabilities, which was aimed at teaching students assorted life skills to help them live independently. According to the lawsuit and criminal charges, Doe is in her mid-to-late 20s and has cerebral palsy and cortical visual impairment, uses a wheelchair, and has the intelligence of a 13-year-old.
Ruiz was arrested in July 2020 and has been charged with rape, kidnapping and two other sexual assault counts also encompasses an allegation that after the reported rape — said to have occurred between December 2019 and March 2020, when the program was shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic — Ruiz sexually assaulted Doe in a campus shuttle van.
Doe’s lawsuit blames West Valley-Mission Community College District staff for repeatedly failing to report and respond to suspicious and sexually aggressive behavior by Ruiz, including a claim of inappropriate touching in 2016 that led to a student being pulled out of the program.
The suit, filed in September 2020, also claims that Ruiz’s wife, a co-director of the program, sought to cover up her husband’s actions by gaslighting victims and portraying them as liars to other students.
“We’re hoping this sends a message not only to the West Valley-Mission College district but the other districts that run these kinds of programs,” said Boskovich, whose law firm Corsiglia, McMahon and Allard specializes in school sexual abuse cases. “Hopefully this encourages (victims) and parents to say something, and encourage these college districts running these programs to make sure they’re doing the right things.”
Boskovich added, “They’re such a vulnerable population, you can manipulate them mentally and physically. My client was relegated to a wheelchair and had the mental capacity of a 13-year-old; you can see how a predator can use that against somebody.”
Ruiz is out of jail custody; his next scheduled court date is a trial-setting hearing on Oct. 19. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
After Ruiz’s arrest two years ago, the district said it swiftly fired Ruiz, who had been a contract employee with the school starting in 2015, and also terminated his wife. The college was conciliatory in a statement regarding the settlement.
“Mission College takes seriously our commitment to student safety, but failed in this case to ensure the well being of one of our female students in the Program for Students with Developmental Disabilities,” said Bradley Davis, Chancellor of the West Valley-Mission Community College District. “We sincerely apologize to the victim and her family and hope that this settlement provides some measure of relief for their pain and suffering.”
Before the reported rape, the lawsuit states that Ruiz favored Doe with personal attention that included buying her food and ice cream, phone chargers, clothes and a bracelet, and texted her “personal messages unrelated to school and called her during non-school hours.”
Doe also alleges that Ruiz “insisted” on physically helping her in and out of her wheelchair even though she did not need help, and that there were “instances when Raymond Ruiz transported plaintiff alone to the restroom,” for which his wife admonished him, according to the suit.
Boskovich said Ruiz should have been terminated sooner than he was, when suspicions about him started surfacing within a year of his hire. He said the settlement signals to him that the district acknowledged the “overwhelming” evidence of what happened to Doe.
“Give them credit for stepping up and doing the right thing,” he said.
In its statement, the college said that since the Ruiz arrest and charges, administrators have implemented new employee training for reporting “inappropriate and abusive behavior on campus,” instituted mandatory reporting to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for campus crime allegations, and overhauled hiring practices to “ensure managers have no direct or indirect responsibilities over relatives,” was was the case with Ruiz and his wife.
“We want to assure our current and future students, faculty, staff and parents that the college is committed to making certain that this type of behavior never again occurs on campus,” Davis said.
The settlement for Doe will be covered mostly through the college’s insurance coverage. Boskovich added that he hopes the settlement will provide Doe and her family with needed security and stability.
“Jane Doe has a lot of needs and I’m hoping this settlement will give her what she needs to get mental-health treatment and just to make her life easier, and can bring some peace to her life,” he said. “She’s still afraid from what happened.”
Update: September 23, 2022 This story has been updated to include statements from the West Valley-Mission Community College District.