Working for Justice

Can I Still Bring a Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, or Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against My School or University?

Posted February 15th, 2019 by in Gender Discrimination and Harassment.

The #MeToo Movement continues to call attention to victims of sexual violence and discrimination. A chorus of survivors’ voices grows. More and more survivors are filing sex discrimination lawsuits to vindicate their rights in court and hold accountable both the perpetrators who harmed them and the institutions that failed to protect them. Often it is an educational institution that betrays a survivor’s trust: schools, colleges, universities, teams, and programs.

For survivors considering a lawsuit against such educational institutions, there is always the crucial question: have my civil claims expired under the law?

The short answer is: it depends. Even if you last suffered direct injury years (or decades) ago, it is important to consult with a civil litigation lawyer. One important circumstance that can extend a normal deadline to file suit is if you discover new information that reveals an institution’s culpability to you.

A major barrier to victims’ pursuit of justice is often presented by the strict time limits within which victims must file their claims (this is commonly called the “statute of limitations”). The exact deadline for filing a claim can be a very complex and technical legal question. It depends on both the law and your situation.

Title IX and Section 1983 are two important federal civil rights laws that can empower victims to sue federally funded or public educational institutions for gender discrimination. The statute of limitations under these federal laws varies by state because they “borrow” the general time limits for personal injury claims in each state. Generally, these time limits can expire 1–6 years from when an injury occurs. But, there are several crucial exceptions that can extend these time limits.

One of these exceptions, the “discovery rule,” could mean that the time limit for bringing a claim only starts when a survivor first learns, or with due diligence should have known about the facts on which their claim is based.

A recent court case in Maine illustrates the power of this exception.[1] The plaintiffs were survivors of sexual abuse, perpetrated against them when they were minors by a city’s police officers. These survivors recently brought a civil rights suit against the city and police chief for their institutional role in enabling the abuse. But, the abuse all happened in the 1980s and 1990s, so any time limit running from then would have long expired. A federal judge ruled, however, that the case may proceed because the survivors allege that they only learned about the city or police chief’s role in violating their rights through recent media coverage and law enforcement investigations.

While this lawsuit seeks to hold a city and police chief accountable, the discovery rule may apply equally in the context of Section 1983 suits against public educational institutions and Title IX suits against educational institutions or programs that receive federal funding.[2]

If you are a victim of gender discrimination, including sexual assault and sexual harassment, you may still have a civil claim against the perpetrator and/or a third party. Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP has experienced sexual violence and gender discrimination lawyers in New York, Washington, DC, Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego, and Tennessee, who can assess the circumstances of your case.

Footnotes

[1] Lauzon v. Dodd, No. 2:16-CV-51-DBH, 2016 WL 3906618 (D. Me. July 14, 2016).
[2] See e.g., Armstrong v. Lamy, 938 F. Supp. 1018 (D. Mass. 1996) (Section 1983 lawsuit); Hernandez v. Baylor Univ., 274 F. Supp. 3d 602, 616 (W.D. Tex. 2017) (Title IX lawsuit).

Austin Webbert

Austin Webbert

Austin Webbert is a Litigation Fellow in the Baltimore office of Sanford Heisler Sharp, a national law firm with offices in Washington DC, New York, California, Tennessee, and Maryland. He received his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 2017. Learn More

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