Ezra Bayda, the former teacher at Zen Center of San Diego, and two of his former students have settled a civil lawsuit alleging sexual assault and harassment out of court for an undisclosed amount of money earlier this year, Tricycle has learned.
The two women filed the civil lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court in May 2020, court documents show. Both women allege “grotesque acts of sexual assault and battery” against them from Bayda throughout their year-long periods as student and teacher. The civil lawsuit also named Zen Center of San Diego (ZCSD) as a defendant, and the complaint alleged six counts against Bayda and ZCSD, including sexual battery, battery, gender violence, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. A jury trial had been set for March of this year.
ZCSD did not return multiple requests for comment. A statement recently posted on the Zen center’s homepage discussed the settlement. “As part of the terms of that settlement, all parties have acknowledged that the settlement constitutes a compromise of disputed claims that is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of any party,” the statement reads, adding that the center is committed to providing a safe practice environment, and linking to their ethical policies and sexual misconduct complaint procedure.
Bayda has been practicing meditation since 1970, according to his biography, and received dharma transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck (1917-2011), who founded the ZCSD in 1983. He is the author of numerous books, including Aging for Beginners and Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life.
According to ZCSD, in late July 2019 the Zen center’s board of trustees “received verbal accounts of allegations of sexual misconduct by Ezra Bayda.” Bayda was “immediately suspended” from teaching, as was Elizabeth Hamilton, a lead teacher at ZCSD and Bayda’s wife. The center hired Faith Trust Institute to conduct an independent investigation. (Faith Trust Institute is a multifaith, multicultural nonprofit organization founded in 1977 that provides training and consultancy work in hope of ending sexual and domestic violence.)
Following FTI’s investigation, the ZCSD board unanimously voted to fire Bayda as a teacher, saying “there was credible evidence that Ezra committed multiple instances of sexual misconduct with more than one student in violation of ZCSD’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct and the White Plum Asanga’s Code of Ethical Conduct.”
Hamilton, according to ZCSD, was not accused of sexual misconduct, but the board “voted unanimously to ask Elizabeth for her immediate resignation on the basis of her breaching the WPA’s Code of Ethical Conduct as it relates to confidentiality, right speech, and dual relationships.”
The suit also claims that the accusers reported Bayda’s inappropriate behavior and assault to the ZCSD board in 2018, and that the board “investigated” but did not interview the accusers or stop Bayda from teaching.
Bayda, in an email, said both he and Hamilton “wish all good things in the future” for the two former students, and that they “hope that they continue with their practice and have happy lives.” Bayda added that he and Hamilton “are happy that the litigation is resolved, and wish the best for everyone involved.”
When asked to describe the terms of the settlement in a follow-up email, Bayda said: “My vow as a teacher has always been to do no harm, and I don’t believe that talking about the details of this case would be of benefit to anyone.” Bayda said that both he and Hamilton are teaching informally at a retirement center, as well as with students by phone.
The plaintiffs declined to comment for this story. Their lawyer, William F. Small III, told Tricycle that the violation of the student-teacher relationship “got to the core of what this case was about” and “one of the reasons why the wrongs that were committed were so devastating to my clients.”
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