A lawsuit filed against the Pittsburg Unified School District alleges that a former Pittsburg High football coach repeatedly touched and groped female students and continued to keep his job despite more than a decade of reprimands, then went quietly into retirement with a promise from the district to keep the allegations secret.
The lawsuit, filed by two former students at the high school, alleges that former coach Phillip Webb and the school district signed a confidential settlement agreement that let Webb retire in June 2022. According to the lawsuit, that agreement came after Webb earlier that year had been reprimanded for “unprofessional conduct” that included kissing a student on her forehead.
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That incident was just one of many, attorney Lauren Cerri said.
“The school district put more emphasis on protecting this individual than they did the women who put their trust into this person,” she said by phone Monday. “We want the school district to be held accountable for not protecting them and for giving him a slap on the wrist over and over again.”
Among the other allegations in the lawsuit are that Webb slapped a student on the butt and that he engaged in more inappropriate behavior when he transported students to a home and to a fast-food restaurant.
Attempts to reach Webb on Monday were not successful. He said in a statement to the San Franisco Chronicle: “As an educator in the PUSD for 42 years, I remain shocked and saddened by these allegations. Throughout my career, I have strived to create a healthy learning environment and safe space for students.”
Messages left with Pittsburg Unified School District Superintendent Janet Schulze and Pittsburg police were not returned Monday. The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office said on Monday that they were not currently investigating any specific criminal referral involving Webb.
The state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing’ issued a “reproval” — apparently the equivalent of a reprimand — to Webb in May. His teaching credential was listed as valid on the state’s website Monday.
The lawsuit alleges that the inappropriate touching first became known to the district in 2007, when a female student and her father reported that Webb hugged the girl in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The district responded by telling Webb not to hug students or staff, according to the lawsuit.
One of the women filing the lawsuit said that Webb in 2015 gave her a frontal hug and rubbed her buttocks and lower abdomen in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. She then reported the incident to the vice principal; according to the lawsuit, Webb acknowledged the inappropriate behavior, including kissing another student on the cheek.
The lawsuit states that Webb received a Notice of Written Reprimand for the misconduct but that the district did not report Webb to law enforcement or to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
Another woman claimed that when she was a student in April 2016 that Webb requested to stretch her hamstring but instead proceeded to grope her inner thigh and buttocks, according to the lawfuit. Another coach saw this, according to the lawsuit, and again the incident was reported to the school district. The lawsuit states that Webb received another written reprimand but his behavior again wasn’t reported to higher authorities.
A third written letter of reprimand came in December 2019, according to the lawsuit. That’s when the lawsuit alleges Webb allowed a female student to sit on his lap.
In March 2022 — two months after the lawsuit states that Webb had received another Notice of Unprofessional Conduct for transporting a student to a fast-food restaurant during a lunch period, kissing her forehead and slapping her rear end — the district placed Webb on paid administrative leave. The lawsuit states the leave came following the discovery of security camera footage that showed Webb with his arm tightly around a female student on the steps outside the school.
The lawsuit states Webb and the district signed a confidential separation agreement two weeks later, allowing Webb to retire at the end of the school year and keeping his behavior secret to any potential employer.