Statute of Limitations Under Title IX

by | May 1, 2020 | Gender Discrimination

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits colleges, universities, and schools that receive federal funding from engaging in sex discrimination.  Like all legal claims, there are strict time limitations (the “statute of limitations”) within which a Title IX claim must be filed.  Because Title IX does not explicitly set a statute of limitations, courts will apply the statute of limitations set forth in the most analogous law (often the personal injury statute) of the state governing the Title IX claims.  In practice, typically the substantive law of the state in which the institution is located (or the jurisdiction with the most significant relationship to the wrongdoing) will govern.

Thus, the statute of limitations under Title IX varies from state to state.  For example, some states (such as New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, and Michigan) apply a three year statute of limitations to Title IX claims.  Other states (including California, Texas, New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, and Oklahoma) apply a two year statute of limitations.  Minnesota and Maine both apply a six year statute of limitations, while the statute of limitations in Tennessee is just one year.  Generally, the statute of limitations begins to run when a plaintiff knows—or has reason to know—of the injury on which her claim rests.

Some federal courts have held that the statute of limitations under Title IX does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows (or has reason to know) that the school played a role in causing the plaintiff’s injury.  For example, the plaintiff in Hernandez v. Baylor University was assaulted by a football player in April 2012 and reported the incident to Baylor shortly thereafter.  Years later, in May 2016, the results of an investigation into Baylor’s handling of sexual assault allegations (including sexual violence committed by football players) were publicly released.  The plaintiff then filed a Title IX lawsuit in federal court alleging that Baylor was liable for her April 2012 assault.  The court held that the plaintiff’s Title IX claims did not accrue until the independent investigation report was released in May 2016: “Plaintiff was sexually assaulted by [the football player] on April 15, 2012. She alleges that she ‘first became aware of Baylor’s deliberate indifference to a known issue of sexual misconduct within its football program in May of 2016,’ when the [independent investigation] report was released. Thus, while Plaintiff certainly knew of her injury—the sexual assault—in 2012, based on her allegations, she had no reason to know of Baylor’s role in causing the assault until 2016.” Hernandez v. Baylor Univ., 274 F. Supp. 3d 602, 616–17 (W.D. Tex. 2017).

Similarly, in Does v. Baylor University, the court held that the claims of ten plaintiffs—some of whom were assaulted as early as 2004—did not accrue until the rampant sexual assault on campus was widely reported by the media in the spring of 2016: “Plaintiffs were aware of their injuries from the time the assaults occurred. Plaintiffs assert, however, that they had no reason to know of Baylor’s alleged causal connection to their assaults until the spring of 2016 when media reports regarding the rampant nature of the sexual assault on Baylor’s campus first came to light . . . Thus, accepting the allegations in the Complaint as true, the claims for heightened-risk liability did not accrue until spring 2016, and the two-year statute of limitations had not run by June 15, 2016, when this case was first filed.”  Does 1-10 v. Baylor Univ., 240 F. Supp. 3d 646, 663 (W.D. Tex. 2017).

Equitable tolling doctrines may also apply if a plaintiff did not assert timely claims under Title IX due to fraud, misrepresentation, or deception by the defendant.  For example, in Zimmerman v. Poly Prep Country Day Sch., 888 F. Supp. 2d 317 (E.D.N.Y. 2012), the school actively concealed reports of sexual assault by a football coach.  The school did not disclose any of the allegations against the coach and instead publicly represented that the accused coach “remained in good standing at the school and was held in high regard.”  The federal court found that the school’s “deceitful conduct” may have led the plaintiff’s to “falsely believe that [the school] was unaware of [the accused coach’s] misconduct and could not be liable[.]”

Sanford Heisler Sharp has experienced Title IX lawyers in New York, Washington, DC, Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego, and Tennessee, who can assess the circumstances of your case.