In the remote town of Concord, New Hampshire only 67 miles from Boston, MA sits the esteemed St. Paul’s School, an Episcopalian boarding school, whose school prayer “urges kindness and an eagerness to ‘bear the burdens of others.’” A school known for its tight-knit community, academic prestige, and “devotion to healthy and caring relationships”—with alumni ranging from John Kerry to several members of the Vanderbilt and Taft families—St. Paul’s School is now in the spotlight for yet another Title IX claim.
In 2016, St. Paul’s settled with Chessy Prout shortly following her accuser and fellow student, Owen Labrie’s, conviction of sexual assault, child endangerment, and using a computer to lure her for sex. And most recently (May 11, 2018), “Jane Doe” has filed suit against the school for severe emotional distress as a direct result of St. Paul’s “utter breach of duty to protect children under its care and to provide an education free from sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based harassment.”
Sadly, the “hypersexualized” and “unsafe” environment that Jane Doe describes in her claim—including clubs where young men compete to see how many freshman girls they can “slay”—is all too prevalent throughout many of the prestigious New England prep schools. In 2016, St. George’s School in Rhode Island made headlines when over 40 former students came forward regarding the sexual abuse and assault they suffered in the 1970s and 80s, mainly at the hands of St. George’s athletic director. Horace Mann, an elite prep school in Brooklyn, was investigated for a “sex ring” with over 60 sexual abuse cases involving teachers and students from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Title IX of the 1972 Amendments to the Higher Education Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity,” which according to the Supreme Court allows two private causes of action (two different claims from which someone can sue): 1) The school had “actual knowledge” (advance notice) of the harassment by an official who “had authority to address the alleged discrimination and to institute corrective measures” on the school’s behalf. In the case of St. Paul’s School, according to the lawsuit, the teachers and administrators were well aware of the “‘Senior Salute’—a school tradition, dating back at least three years, in which senior, male SPS students tried in the spring before their commencement to ‘score’ with as many underclass, female SPS students as possible.” 2) The school receives notices of a complaint, yet acts with “deliberate indifference.” The courts have found that deliberate indifference is when upon receiving notice of a student’s suffering from sexual assault, the school fails to conduct a timely investigation, as was the case at Horace Mann School. By the time Horace Mann finally participated in and conducted a thorough investigation, the statute of limitations had run out.
The statute of limitations for Title IX cases corresponds to the state’s location of the incident. California has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims, so any Title IX claims that occurred within California must be filed within two years of the date of the incident. In cases of individuals who are at prep schools and are under the age of 18 at the time of the incident, most states have a tolling provision that claims do not begin to run until the victim reaches the age of maturity, which is generally 18 years old. To put this in English and outside of legalese, if someone is under the age of 18 when the incident occurs, and there is a two-year statute of limitations in that particular state, the victim needs to file the lawsuit prior to his or her 20th birthday.
John Kristensen of Kristensen Weisberg, LLP is not only quite familiar with the New England prep school culture, having attended such schools in his youth, but also a leader in his field for Title IX cases; he obtained the largest Title IX settlement in United States history .