It is a scene we have all watched in movies and television: an unwanted kiss, uncomfortable advances, a forceful grope or, often, something much worse. Today’s social climate recognizes that these frequent workplace behaviors are inappropriate, unacceptable, and illegal. But for years, this type of conduct was excused and ignored, implicitly condoned, as “boys being boys” and “that’s just how it was back then.”
In truth, this behavior was never ok. But the defeat expressed in these sentiments reveals the how difficult it was for victims of sexual harassment and assault to be taken seriously, let alone find justice. Women often were employed in positions of limited power and precarious job security, to say nothing of earning pennies on the dollar compared to men. Because of fear of reprisals reporting was infrequent and legal redress almost non-existent. A study completed by the National Sexual Violence Research Center in 2020 found that an estimated seven million women and three million men in the U.S. reported experiencing some type of workplace-related sexual violence during their lifetime.
Indeed, in 1975, the New York Times published an article describing sexual assault in the workplace as an “epidemic” that was often ignored or shrouded in secrecy because it was seen as “humiliating” or “trivial.” It was not until 1986, when Mechelle Vinson, a bank teller, dared speak up about her boss raping her at work that the Supreme Court finally determined in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson that federal anti-discrimination laws made workplace sexual harassment unlawful. Yet, even since then, progress in protecting women from sexual violence, particularly in the workplace, has been slow and workplace harassment and assault has by no means been eradicated.
Fortunately, New Yorkers benefit from some of the most progressive laws combatting the sexual assault of employees. The New York Adult Survivors Act is one such example. Recently enacted, this law allows sexual assault victims who may have been unable or willing to come forward a second chance at justice. From November 24, 2022 through November 24, 2023, victims of sexual assault of any kind, whether at work or not, have a window to bring civil claims that have “expired” against their perpetrators and the institutions that enabled them, which includes employers.
The Adult Survivors Act is already effective, and the lawsuits filed have brought forward several allegations of sexual assault against notable figures who have long hid behind the mask of, “that’s just the way things were.” Author E. Jean Carroll filed suit against Donald Trump for an alleged rape committed by Trump against her in a Manhattan department store decades ago. New claims have been filed against Bill Cosby; five women have come forward with a civil lawsuit not only against Cosby, but also against NBCUniversal Media LLC and two other production companies for enabling his conduct for decades. Finally, a lawsuit has been filed against Leon Black, billionaire and former CEO of Apollo Global Management for a sexual assault that occurred twenty years ago. Had the Adult Survivors Act not been passed, none of these women would have had the opportunity to bring these legal claims, as they had expired under the pre-existing statutes of limitations.
If you have been sexually assaulted in New York, regardless of when it happened, you should contact an attorney to discuss your situation.
At Outten & Golden, we are committed to helping victims of sexual assault. If you have questions about New York’s Adult Survivors Act, please contact the firm through the ”Contact Us" form or by calling us in the New York office at (212) 404-0307 to begin the Outten & Golden intake process.