Starting on November 24, 2022, workers in New York who were sexually assaulted (often within the context of an employment relationship) but time-barred from pursuing a legal action will have an opportunity to seek legal redress through a civil claim.
Reviving Sexual Assault Actions by Creating a “Lookback Window”
The Adult Survivors Act (ASA), signed into law by New York Governor Kathy Hochul in May 2022, creates an exception to the statute of limitations for sexual assault survivors to allow them to bring civil suit, regardless of then the sexual assault occurred. Now, anyone subjected to an intentional or negligent act (when they were 18 or older) that constitutes a criminal sexual offense may file a legal claim between November 24, 2022, and November 24, 2023. Under New York penal laws, a sexual offense can include sexual misconduct, rape, criminal sexual acts, forcible or unwanted touching, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. Often, such crimes manifest in the context of workplace harassment, in the form of unwanted contact, groping, or worse.
The ASA’s one-year “lookback window” applies not only to survivors who did not initiate a cause of action within the limitations period but also to plaintiffs who filed suit but had their claims dismissed as untimely. In addition, the abuser need not have been convicted of any crime to be held accountable under civil law.
New York law includes a variety of civil claims available to victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault that potentially may be revived by the ASA. Consultation with an experienced employment attorney can help you understand what rights and possible claims you may have as a result of the ASA’s enactment.
Processing the Trauma of Sexual Abuse
Everyone processes sexual trauma differently. “The trauma that comes with experiencing sexual assault does not arbitrarily adhere to a limit of time, nor can justice be held to a period of time,” Governor Hochul pointed out at the signing of the Adult Survivors Act.
Proponents of the new law believe the ASA better reflects the reality of how sexual assault survivors process their injuries, particularly within an employment setting. For example, many workers are reluctant to immediately step forward for fear that their employer may terminate or retaliate against them (which is itself illegal). Others simply don’t realize they were sexually abused or assaulted until years later.
As noted by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, the law provides “a necessary rebalancing of the scales of justice and ensures that survivors are protected,” by reviving sexual assault and sexual abuse claims that would not otherwise be timely.
Having Their Day in Court
For years, heavy-handed arbitration clauses in employment contracts have effectively swept workplace sexual harassment and assault allegations and outcomes under the rug. Claimants under the ASA, however, are not required to arbitrate their cases and may elect to proceed publicly with their claims.
In March 2022, President Biden signed H.R. 4455, now known as the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which renders invalid and bans enforcement of mandatory arbitration of civil actions involving sexual offenses under federal, state, and tribal laws. Any plaintiff filing a workplace sexual assault claim under the ASA can have their claim heard by a judge or jury in open court.
Available Damages for Workplace Sexual Assault
The ASA gives survivors of workplace sexual abuse who may have been prevented or discouraged from filing a claim another chance to obtain money damages, in addition to the opportunity to finally hold their abuser accountable. Because the lookback window does not restrict specific types of civil lawsuits, a plaintiff – advised by an experienced employment lawyer – may be entitled to various forms of relief, including compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees.