Proctor School District, family of former football player settle lawsuit over 2021 hazing incident

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PROCTOR, Minn. — The Proctor School District and the family of a former football player have reached a settlement in the federal lawsuit stemming from a 2021 incident in the football locker room.

The parties reached an agreement in October, court documents show, that avoids a trial and allows the defendants — which included the Duluth-area school district, former coach Derek Parendo, former Superintendent John Engelking and several assistant coaches — to admit no wrongdoing.

The financial terms of the settlement are confidential, according to the documents, but stipulate that the victim will receive an initial payout of 13% of the settlement. After that, they will receive equal monthly payments for the next 10 years, with the remainder of the balance disbursed at the end of that period.

The victim’s parents, whom the Duluth News Tribune hasn’t named in keeping with its policy of withholding the identity of sexual assault victims, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the victim in August 2022 following a 2021 incident that rocked the Proctor community.

The lawsuit centered on an incident on Sept. 6, 2021, that resulted in the cancellation of the football season, a sexual assault conviction for former Proctor player Alec Baney and the resignation of Parendo. Baney, who was 17 at the time, was accused of sexually assaulting the victim with a toilet plunger after practice that day, with several other teammates reportedly holding down the victim while the assault took place.

Baney was sentenced in June to supervised probation until his 21st birthday after pleading guilty in juvenile court to felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The suit alleged that “prior to, and during” Parendo’s time as coach, there was a “prevalent practice” of hazing rituals involving a toilet plunger. The practice included using the rubber portion to touch a victim’s genital area, the complaint said. Another practice included “urinating into the concave portion” of the plunger, suctioning it to the ceiling and asking an unsuspecting player to pull it down, the lawsuit claims.

The practice was brought to the attention of the district, Engelking, the activities director and guidance counselors “on multiple occasions over the course of many years,” according to the complaint.

The district allegedly instructed Parendo before the 2021 season to remove the plunger from the locker room and advise the team that hazing would not be tolerated.

The district and Parendo did not take “adequate measures” to remove the plunger from the locker room, the complaint said, and to ensure that hazing activities ceased.

The suit acknowledges Parendo was not at the Sept. 6 practice and that it was conducted by his assistants.

After the weather ended the practice early, the assistants did not remain at the facility while the players changed. After a brief chase, the victim was tackled and held down by several players while another sexually assaulted them with the plunger, the complaint said.

The assault was “offensive, unwanted and interfered with” the victim’s educational environment and the educational opportunities provided by the district.

The complaint also alleges that all the defendants “condoned student-on-student sexual and physical” harassment by downplaying the incidents and failing to educate staff and student-athletes about the dangers of hazing.

The victim “suffered embarrassment, humiliation, fear of retaliation, intimidation, breach of trust, anxiety, depression, pain and suffering,” according to the complaint.

The Proctor School District and attorneys for the victim’s family did not immediately respond to the News Tribune’s requests for comment.

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