The Lawsuit: What You Need to Know
This past year, the Jewish Daily Forward published an article detailing alleged sexual abuse at Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys (henceforth YUHSB) dating from 1969 to 1989. In recent months, Kevin Mulhearn, acting as the attorney for 31 prior students at YUHSB, filed a lawsuit against Yeshiva University. Here’s what you need to know.
1. According to New York State law, cases of child sexual abuse must be brought before the victim(s) turn 23 years old. YU hopes to dismiss the case based on this statute of limitations. However, Mulhearn argues that this statute of limitations is inapplicable because YU knew about the abuse and ignored it. Mulhearn successfully used this argument in another case involving Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School.
2. The suit points to three individuals – George Finkelstein, Rabbi Macy Gordon, and Richard Andron (a student) – as having committed numerous acts of sexual abuse with over thirty students for approximately thirty-five years. The plaintiffs allege that administrators within YU knew about – and ignored –various reports of sexual abuse. The suit points to YU’s much publicized $100 million fundraising efforts in the 1980s as a possible motive for the cover-up. The lawsuit claims that responding to the complaints would have jeopardized the campaign.
3. Nineteen plaintiffs are listed in the suit, seventeen of which are listed anonymously as “John Doe”. Over the past few weeks, twelve new anonymous defendants joined the suit. Mulhearn revised the original suit to include the additional twelve plaintiffs.
4. As defendants, the suit lists YUHSB, Yeshiva University, Norman Lamm, and Robert Hirt (VP of RIETS).
5. In detailed descriptions, the suit lists the various cases. Included in the cases are instances of sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and general harassment. The suit repeatedly references ongoing psychological treatment, suicide attempts, social isolation, and continuing anxiety – among other ailments of the plaintiffs – that were caused by the sexual abuse and harassment during their respective times at YUHSB.
6. The suit implicates numerous members of the YU administration for receiving reports of sexual abuse but repeatedly refusing to act. Among the accused still working at Yeshiva are: Rabbis Herschel Schachter, Yosef Blau, Mayer Twersky, and Norman Lamm. Other administrators at YUHSB and YU were accused of inaction.
7. Ultimately, the suit asks for compensation upwards of $680 million dollars.
NY Times – Frank Bruni
In an op-ed piece published in the New York Times on July 22, Frank Bruni compared the YU abuse case to similar cases that have rocked the Catholic Church in years past. Specifically, Bruni pointed to the “defensive mind-set” of the YU administration in claiming that sexual abuse and child molestation were not understood or addressed back in the 1970s and 80s. Bruni is quick to question this defense, pointing to YU’s fundraising campaign and arguing that such a mindset still exists within the orthodox community. Frank Bruni quotes Rabbi Herschel Schachter’s now infamous statements from a London conference, where he used the word ‘shvartze’ to describe the dangers of prison life. Bruni suggests that this aversion to law enforcement is the real culprit in the YU sexual abuse case. Additionally, Bruni argues that community intimidation forced many of the plaintiffs to decline to be named in the lawsuit.
AIG, Yeshiva University’s insurer, has tentatively said that it will not cover costs of the suit if YU is found guilty. AIG argues that YU intentionally hid the cases of sexual abuse: “According to the complaint, it now appears that members of the administration of YUHS were specifically aware of abuse involving Mordechai Twersky and [John] Does One, Two, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen but failed to provide timely notice.” Because YU withheld information from AIG, the insurer says it may not be legally required to cover YU for any settlements pursuant to the case.