Bill to Hold Educational Leaders Accountable for Sexual Assault
Motivated by the terrible crimes of sexual abuse committed by Larry Nassar at Michigan State University, and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University, the U.S. Senate has introduced a bill that would hold university and college leaders accountable for any sexual abuse that happens under their administration. Larry Nassar, a sports doctor, was recently sentenced for molesting hundreds of girls and women entrusted to his care. In 2012, Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30-60 years for molesting boys.
The bipartisan group of senators are calling the legislation the ALERT Act, which stands for Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations.
Title IX requires any university or college that receives federal funding to establish clear procedures that enable the prompt response to incidents of sexual assault. To ensure compliance with federal guidelines, schools must also have a Title IX coordinator who is responsible for overseeing investigations and carrying out disciplinary actions. The ALERT Act would require that schools also submit annual certification that the President or Chancellor of the school, along with at least one other member of the Board of Trustees, has reviewed all incidents reported to the Title IX coordinator that year involving employee sexual misconduct.
The legislation is sponsored by Senators Gary Peters, and Debbie Stabenow, both representing the state of Michigan, along with Senator John Cornyn of Texas. They aim to protect future generations of students by holding educational leaders publicly accountable for taking sexual abuse more seriously. In both the Nassar and Sandusky cases, although Title IX investigations had been conducted, university leaders failed to follow through and take action. They also denied knowledge of the investigations. The ALERT Act would require that schools confirm there had been no interference with an ongoing investigation by any board member, President, or Chancellor.
In both the Penn State and Michigan State cases, the consequences for the university were severe and costly. Graham Spanier, who was president of Penn State at the time of the Sandusky scandal, and two other university officials received sentences with jail time, fines, and community service for failing to protect the welfare of children. The university’s reputation was tarnished as well as that of the football program that Sandusky was a part of.
The Nassar case eventually brought about the resignation of its president, Lou Ann K. Simon, on the same day Nassar received his prison sentence. Afterwards, the Faculty Senate issued a vote of no confidence in its Board of Trustees – an indication of how tensions remain on campus even after an attacker has been held accountable.
As these cases and the new legislation demonstrate, when sexual assault happens on campus, the stakes are high for educational institutions and their leaders. Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser are available to present preventative training to our clients to avoid incidents of misconduct or harassment, to assist in the investigation process, and defend such claims when they are asserted. For more information about the services we provide, call 484-318-7106 or contact us online.
Debt Collections Overview
Each state has different laws regarding the collection and enforcement of debts. There are four main steps to debt collection in Pennsylvania: investigating the debtor, sending the debtor a demand letter, filing suit against the debtor and collecting or reviving the judgment against the debtor.
Before attempting to collect, the creditor should make sure that their claim is within the statute of limitations. Also, the debtor’s location, assets and resources should be investigated so that creditors may make an informed evaluation of prospects for recovery. To that end, it is important to determine whether the debtor owns any real property, whether the debtor is employed and whether the debtor has any other open lawsuits. Creditors may utilize all publicly available resources such as Pennsylvania Corporate Name Search, Facebook and LinkedIn to research the debtor prior to filing suit.
It is prudent to prepare for any defenses that the debtor may raise, and any attempts made by the debtor to hide assets during litigation. Preliminary research done without alerting the debtor to the possibility of a lawsuit may yield valuable information that can be used if the debtor later claims to be unable to pay, or refuses to pay, a judgment.
A demand letter may prompt a debtor to pay off the debt, thereby avoiding lengthy litigation. The demand letter is typically drafted by an attorney and sent by certified mail. Demand letters must include the name of the creditor, the name of the debtor, the circumstances surrounding the debt that is owed, and a notice to the debtor that he or she may dispute the debt in writing.
Generally, debtors have 30 days to dispute the debt according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. However, once evidence of the debt is presented, creditors may not be required to wait the full 30 days and will usually afford debtors ten to 15 days to respond before filing suit.
If the debtor does not respond to the demand letter, a civil complaint may be filed. Creditors may obtain a judgment against debtors in several ways. If a debtor fails to respond within 30 days of service, a default judgment in the creditor’s favor may be entered. A motion for summary judgment may be filed if the debtor responds within 30 days but provides inadequate responses to the complaint. Finally, arbitration or a trial may result in a judgment being entered against the debtor.
Collecting or Reviving the Judgment
Once a judgment against a debtor has been entered, they must satisfy the debt. However, debtors may not pay the debt voluntarily. Pennsylvania creditors may collect the judgment by garnishing bank accounts owned by the debtor, forced sale of real or personal property owned by the debtor, forced sale of vehicles or boats or other motor vehicles owned by the debtor. Judgments against debtors in Pennsylvania acts as a lien against debtor’s real property, therefore debtors must satisfy that lien before transferring property. Attempts to garnish bank accounts must be done promptly as debtors who are aware of this collection method may withdraw their funds.
Debtors may be subpoenaed by creditors who wish to inquire about the debtor’s property or assets. Subpoenaed debtors who fail to appear for deposition may be held in contempt of court. Continued failure to appear may result in the issuance of a bench warrant for the debtor’s arrest. If a debtor refuses to pay a judgment and all collection efforts were made to no avail, creditors may revive the judgment every five years for up to 20 years.
Late last year, a new bill concerning Pennsylvania schools and teachers passed both houses of legislation and became law without the signature of Governor Tom Wolf. Governor Wolf has expressed serious concern about some of the provisions in the bill.
The amendments to the Pennsylvania School Code addresses many issues including using the state test known as the Keystone Exam as a requirement to graduate from high school, mandatory training for school boards, and increased subsidies for private schools. By far the most controversial change included in the bill deals with laying off teachers during times of economic hardship.
Prior to the passing of House Bill 178, school districts used a traditional model for deciding which teachers get laid off when cutbacks are necessary. The LIFO policy, or “last-in, first-out” uses a teacher’s length of tenure to decide who is cut first and who stays. Now, seniority is no longer the main criteria in making cuts.
Using the Rating System to Make Cuts
In 2013-14, Pennsylvania introduced the teacher effectiveness rating system to evaluate educators in state school systems, including school administrators and principals. The rating system consists of four components: 50 percent classroom observation, 15 percent building-level standardized test data, 15 percent teacher-specific standardized test data, and 20 percent elective data that the school determines. As per the new law, teachers who have two consecutive years of “unsatisfactory” ratings would be first to be laid off, then those with “needs improvement,” and “proficient.” Last to be laid off would be teachers with ratings of “distinguished.”
Seniority would only come into play when teachers have equal ratings and in those cases, the teacher with the shorter tenure length would be laid off first. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, strongly opposed the changes. The President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers also voiced opposition and said that debates about economic furloughs are the wrong place to use the teacher effectiveness rating system. The unions want evaluations to be used only to help teachers improve their craft and to ensure that good teachers stay in the classroom.
In contrast, school boards and administrators feel the bill allows for more flexibility and reorganization. Prior to the change, they were only allowed to cut staff when enrollment was down, when schools are consolidated, or when specific academic programs are eliminated. They say the new legislation allows better and more efficient reorganization instead of having to abolish an entire music, art, or full-day kindergarten program when making cuts.
Medical Malpractice Defense
Defense in a medical malpractice lawsuit often follows one of three common strategies. Experienced counsel will always prepare as if a case is going to trial, however, trial can sometimes be avoided by eliminating key elements of the plaintiff’s case including:
- Expert testimony
- Elimination or reduction of damages
Any medical malpractice claim depends on the testimony of experts to explain to the judge and jury the medical mistakes made by the defendant and extent of damages caused by them. The judge is the one who decides if an expert may testify before the jury, so his or her rejection of that expert may derail the case built by the plaintiff.
The judge must evaluate both if the expert is qualified and if that person’s testimony is reliable. Rarely in medical malpractice cases does an attorney hire an obviously unqualified expert to testify on the plaintiff’s behalf. Expert testimony is one of the most effective and persuasive weapons the plaintiff has when it comes to convincing a jury. However, even a qualified expert may be barred from testifying if that expert’s opinion can be proven unreliable.
The defense can bring into question the methods used by the expert to show that their testimony will not be based on established and accepted scientific principles. If enough doubt is cast on the reliability of the expert’s testimony and the judge prevents them from testifying, the plaintiff will have little opportunity to prove negligence.
The defense can also argue absence of causation in a medical malpractice case. This means that harm experienced by the plaintiff was not caused by any mistake that the defendant made. It can happen that a doctor fails to diagnose a serious disease like cancer and instead treats the minor symptoms that a patient presents. Should the patient die, the shocked family will find the doctor’s care negligent and sue for medical malpractice. The defense may argue that the negligence did not cause the patient’s death. Some forms of cancer are incurable, especially in advanced form, and the doctor’s misdiagnosis would have had little effect on how the cancer progressed, thus causation cannot be proved.
Elimination or Reduction of Damages
In a medical malpractice suit, the defendant is only liable to the extent that the patient was harmed. This is true no matter how serious a mistake a doctor makes. If it can be shown that damage to the patient was not what is being claimed by the plaintiff, then the defendant can prevail at trial. There are plaintiffs who claim their lives haves been compromised by the harm that came to them through medical negligence, but investigation by the defense shows otherwise. This may be accomplished by documenting the person leading a normal life, their physical activities unhampered by the damage they claim. Hiring private investigators to gather evidence for the defense is legal and a common strategy.
Business Entity Types
When forming a business, it is important to know which type will suit the needs of your business best to ensure its success. The most common types of business structures and corporations are sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, C corporations, and S corporations. Each has its own set of regulations concerning taxes, residency requirements and limits on growth.
A sole proprietorship is the simplest business entity in that there is no requirement to file with the state to form one. The owner is personally liable for any lawsuits filed against a sole proprietorship and profits and losses from the business are reported on the owner’s personal income taxes.
Partnerships are similarly easy to form as most states do not require filing. Liability for lawsuits rests with the partners and again business profits and losses are passed through to the partners and reported on their personal income tax returns.
Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)
The limited liability corporation is the most flexible business entity in contrast to S and C corporations. There is no residency requirement to form an LLC so owners do not need to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It offers legal protection to the owners from business debts and profits and losses are reported on personal income tax returns thereby avoiding double taxation. However, you may be subject to self-employment tax when you report earnings. If you are converting an existing business to an LLC, any appreciated assets may be taxable. Keep in mind that the growth of an LLC is limited as stock cannot be issued to attract investors.
C Corporations (C corps)
This is the most common type of corporation in the U.S. and allows for the sale of stock in the company with no limit to the number of shareholders or restrictions as to who can be a shareholder. It can be expensive to form a C corp because of the many fees associated with filing the Articles of Incorporation and subsequent fees to be paid to the state. The Directors, officers, shareholders, and employees are protected by limited liability in the event of a lawsuit against the company. When it comes to taxes, revenue is first taxed at the business level and then again as shareholder dividends. Shareholders may not deduct corporate losses on personal tax returns.
S Corporations (S Corps)
S corps are similar to C corps in terms of limited liability protection, filing Articles of Incorporation, and offering stock to investors, but their differences lie in taxation and corporate ownership. An S corp is limited to no more than 100 shareholders who must be legal residents or citizens of the U.S. There is no double taxation as in a C corp, as the owners report profit and loss on their individual tax returns. Taxes are filed once a year unlike a C corp, which must file quarterly taxes. It is important to note that mistakes in filing requirements can result in termination of S corp status.
This overview of different business entities is extremely brief and anyone wishing to form a corporation should seek experienced legal counsel in order to thoroughly review the options in depth before deciding a course of action.
The business lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser assist in all aspects of business formation, corporate compliance, governance, and employment law matters. Call 484-318-7106 to speak with an experienced business lawyer or contact us online.