When your work takes you on the road it can sometimes create uncomfortable or even dangerous situations between coworkers. When a hotel stay or a trip overseas for work turns into a case of sexual harassment or assault, it may be hard to tell when and where the case should be filed.
In 2017, long-time NBC news anchor Matt Lauer was fired from his position after the company received a complaint raising sexual harassment and abuse allegations against him. Brooke Nevils, a former NBC producer, said that Lauer raped her in a hotel room while they were covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. She says that she was too drunk to give consent to his sexual advances, and that she refused his requests for the particular sexual act requested. Ms. Nevils’s attorney said that when the news team returned to New York, pressure and fear that she would lose her job at NBC kept her from reporting the sexual harassment to their mutual employer. Instead, their sexual involvement continued back in the states.
Then in 2017, Nevils and a number of other women began interviewing with various news outlets anonymously to voice their concerns against the host of the Today show and other NBC staples. When the network learned of those interviews, it began its own investigation. Then Nevils’s attorney filed a formal complaint with NBC on November 27, 2019, and two days later, Lauer was fired.
Now, Nevils’s story has shown up again -- this time in the book Catch and Release by Ronan Farrow. In the wake of recent changes in the way New York handles sexual assault cases, some are asking whether the book is a lead in to a lawsuit. As of yet, no federal or state case has been filed.
Some of that may be because it isn’t clear whether New York would have the authority to hear the case. In general, criminal and civil cases resulting from rape, sexual abuse, or other assaults must be filed in the location where the act occurred. Since the specific rape allegations happened in Sochi, Russia, it would be the Russian authorities who would have to file charges. Even if Nevils were to make a report with the New York police, they would be required to send the information overseas for prosecutors there to deal with.
However, there is some possibility that Lauer’s coercive and non-consensual sexual activity didn’t stop at the U.S. border. If Nevils were to raise objections that her continued relationship with the news anchor resulted in additional sexual abuse here at home, that behavior could still result in a civil lawsuit under the state’s new extended window to file a case.
Where any potential lawsuits must be filed is only one half of the issue. The question of when that case must be filed is just as important. Every civil cause of action (right to sue) comes with an expiration date. You only have so long after an offense occurs to resolve your issues or take it to court. These limits are called statutes of limitations.
When the victim of sexual harassment and abuse is an adult at the time of the incident, the New York statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit against the abuser is just 3 years. In Nevils’s case, NBC made a reasonable response to Nevils’s complaint of sexual harassment by a coworker. However, if it had not, she would only have had a few short months to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Sochi incident is said to have happened during the 2014 Winter Olympics. That means under state law, Nevils would have needed to act no later than 2017 under New York law. However, if their relationship continued to meet the criteria for sexual harassment or abuse after the news team returned to the states, Ms. Nevils may still have time to make her case.
Ms. Nevils’s story shows that it can sometimes be difficult to tell when and where your sexual harassment and abuse lawsuit needs to be filed. It also shows how waiting too long to come forward can cut off your right to go to your employer, the EEOC, or the courts to get the remedies you deserve and to protect your professional career.
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or abuse, don’t wait until it is too late. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we have a team of attorneys who know how to fight back against sex abuse and sexual harassment. We will help you tell your story and get the justice and compensation you need before the time runs out. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.