New York Eliminates Time Limitations for Sexual Assault Claims

By Emily Haigh and Liran Messinger © Littler February 22, 2023

​New York State's Adult Survivors Act (ASA), which was enacted on Nov. 24, 2022, amends the state's statute of limitations for civil claims alleging certain sexual offenses—which may include any unwanted sexual contact in the workplace—committed against individuals age 18 or older.

Individuals alleging "intentional or negligent acts or omissions by a person for physical, psychological, or other injury or condition suffered as a result of conduct which would constitute a sexual offense…or incest," as defined by New York penal law, may sue under the ASA, irrespective of when the offense occurred. The ASA's one-year lookback period allows those individuals to commence a civil action under this act as late as Nov. 24, 2023. Prior to the ASA, these allegations would have been time-barred.

This temporary elimination of the statute of limitations applies only to civil claims. Therefore, the remedy the plaintiff seeks is monetary, usually associated with alleged emotional distress or physical harm associated with the past alleged sexual offense. Claims can be brought against individual defendants, former or current employers, schools and religious institutions, if the plaintiff alleges that the entity, intentionally or negligently, caused physical, psychological, or other injury arising out of the alleged sexual offense.

Claims previously brought and dismissed with or without prejudice because they were barred by the statute of limitations may be brought again through the ASA lookback mechanism. The ASA also grants trial preference to actions brought under the Act. Additionally, the ASA includes a provision, which will take effect on Feb. 24, ordering the courts to promulgate additional rules regarding the adjudication of the above-described actions.

Related Laws

New York already has some of longest statutes of limitations in the country for civil claims of unwanted sexual touching against employers. New York City's Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act permits alleged victims to bring claims within seven years of the alleged physical violation, and CPLR 213-c, which was amended in September 2019, also is used to bring civil claims of sexual assault under a 20-year statute of limitations.

The ASA is, however, the only law that not only is retroactive, but also permits a lifetime lookback window, making it a true one-of-its-kind #MeToo law. The ASA is one of many legislative changes since the height of the #MeToo movement.

New York was one of the first states to require all employers to train employees annually in sexual harassment prevention. Currently, eight jurisdictions require employers to train their workforce on preventing sexual harassment: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, New York, and Washington. Many states also require employers to maintain and distribute sexual harassment prevention policies. Just last month, New York published a more stringent 11-page model policy for New York employers to adopt. This proposed policy is not yet final.

#MeToo laws are also alive and well on a national scale. The Speak Out Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden on Dec. 7, 2022, now invalidates non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that were entered into between the employee and employer before a complaint of harassment or assault arose. Parties can still agree to an NDA, but it must be an agreement entered into after the workplace dispute arises.

New York also previously applied greater burdens on parties seeking to resolve a conflict about a harassment/discrimination complaint with an NDA, so that an NDA must be the preference of the employee, and there must be a non-waivable 21-day consideration period and seven-day revocation period. The role of an NDA as a mechanism to resolve conflicts that arise through factual disputes continues to be hotly debated.

Next Steps

An individual suing using the lookback provision of the ASA may choose to sue a former manager or employer they feel is responsible for a past incident of unwanted sexual touching. The employer need not have had direct knowledge of or involvement in the alleged abuse to be sued. While each ASA claim may be different, there are viable defenses to such claims.

Accordingly, New York employers should prepare to defend claims brought under the ASA, which could involve former employees and stale actions. New York employers should consult an attorney when they receive an action or threat of action that utilizes the ASA. Further, New York employers should consult an attorney with workplace violence subject matter experience on internal protocols in responding to such allegations and preventing sexual assault and unwanted touching generally in the workplace.

Emily Haigh and Liran Messinger are attorneys with Littler in New York City. © All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.



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