Covid 19 brought a crisis to Connecticut. It took many peoples’ lives and businesses. Oddly, for one family, it brought a blessing. The pandemic kept alive a lawsuit that would otherwise have evaporated.
The cause of the suit began in the fall of 2018. In gym class at Tolland High School a male pupil began to sexually harass classmate Jane Doe. The teacher must have heard it: the verbal abuse was loud enough for all Jane’s friends in the class to hear. The teacher did nothing, but the friends took turns moving the perpetrator away. Despite their efforts, the boy abused Jane throughout the fall semester.
In January 2019 she finally went to the teacher’s office to formally tell her about it. The teacher said the boy did not know he was being “inappropriate.” Although she did not believe that the boy’s conduct amounted to sexual harassment, the teacher did take some steps to keep him away from Jane in class. Nonetheless, the boy continued his abuse until the end of the semester.
Title IX bars discrimination in schools on the basis of sex. Under the law, ‘discrimination’ includes harassment of one pupil by another. Jane could thus sue Tolland’s board of education in federal court for the gym teacher’s not doing enough to end her abuse.
Jane and her family had a deadline to meet. With Title IX Congress covered every public school in the country, and it gave victims like Jane a certain amount of time to get to federal court. It gave her as much time to get to federal court as Connecticut gave accident victims to get to state court. That meant two years.
By the plain terms of the law the Does would have had to sue Tolland by January 2021. They contacted Attorney Gregory Smith in April 2021. In any other year he could not have helped them.
But before then, Covid 19 hit. In March 2020 Governor Lamont issued executive orders to help get Connecticut through the crisis. One of his orders suspended deadlines in the state’s courts. Twelve months later the Governor lifted the suspension. In September 2021 a state judge ruled that for plaintiffs like Jane, between March 2020 and March 2021 the clock on their deadline had stopped. Attorney Smith thus could file suit in federal court in October.
We all hope we never see a crisis like Covid 19 again. Jane would rather have started her suit sooner. For the Does, justice arriving late was better than not arriving at all.