On November 10, 2022, famed movie director Paul Haggis was found liable for the 2013 rape of Haleigh Breest, a former publicist in the film industry. This civil lawsuit was filed in 2017 under the Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act (“VGMVPA”). This New York City law allows victims to press criminal charges and/or seek civil recovery within seven years of the violent occurrence. Haggis’s defense team tried to dismiss ths claim, but an appeals court ruled that the VGMVPA allowed Breest to bring sexual assault claims even if there were no other evidence of hate towards her gender. Since this was a civil trial, the jurors only had to find that the evidence weighed more in favor of Breest.
While VGMVPA is a law specific to claims related to New York City, on November 24, 2022, the Adult Survivors Act (“ASA”) took effect across New York State. The ASA opens a one-year window of time in which adult survivors of sexual assault may file a civil claim against their perpetrator or an institution, even if the statute of limitations on their claim has expired. Even though the ASA allows a civil suit, it refers to Article 130 of the New York Penal Law, which lists the crimes are covered by the ASA.
Under the ASA, the victim must have been 18 years or older at the time of the assault. This is because New York already had a Child Victims Act of 2019 (“CVA”) lookback window (which ended in 2021), for individuals to bring claims against their abuser or institutions for acts that occurred when they were a minor. Celebrities, schools, and religious organizations faced many CVA lawsuits. Although the lookback window is now closed for minors, minors who are assaulted now have an extended limitations period to bring claims against their assailants.
What does this mean for adult victims?
The ASA offers more victims the opportunity to file a money damages lawsuit because the new law allows for claims anywhere in New York State and no matter how much time has passed since the incident.
Consequently, adult victims now can receive their day in court. There are many reasons why victims of sexual assault and other crimes don’t report right away. Unfortunately, often by the time a victim makes a report, their statute of limitations may have expired, barring them from taking any action against their abuser. But adult survivors in New York now have the chance to ask a judge or jury to find their abuser, and institutions involved, liable for their acts. Navigating the legal process is not easy, and these claims are likely to bring up difficult emotions, so our team at The Coppola Firm is here to help.
What does this mean for employers?
Given the age of the victims eligible to file suit under the ASA, we can expect claims that occurred in the workplace or amongst co-workers to be brought. Employers likely will be named in these suits as vicariously liable for the acts of their employees.
It’s crucial that employers create a safe work environment for all employees. It is in the interest of employers and their employees to have policies in place to educate employees about how they’re expected to act, for example an employee handbook, and to conduct trainings on sexual harassment prevention.
In addition to having a handbook and conducting trainings, employers need to ensure that their employees are complying with these guidelines. Furthermore, employees need to be aware of the steps they can take to report any unwanted sexual behavior they’ve experienced. Employees need to be protected while reporting, and any reports should be taken seriously and be thoroughly investigated.
If an employer routinely follows these steps to protect its employees and prevent sexual misconduct, then it shouldn’t be worried about being named in an ASA lawsuit. If employers haven’t taken the steps necessary to ensure a safe work environment, now’s the time to create policies and procedures to educate and protect their employees. In turn, employers will be protecting themselves from future legal actions.