DES MOINES — The attorney for a woman who claimed a high school coach molested her, causing her emotional problems, asked the Iowa Supreme Court on Wednesday to change the way lawsuits against schools are handled in such cases.
Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin represents a woman who says her New London teacher and coach sexually abused her for several years. She's suing the school district, claiming negligence for allowing an atmosphere in which Gina Sisk could pursue her.
She argued that school districts should fall under the discovery rule, which gives victims up to four years to file a lawsuit after they discover the abuse affected them.
Conlin claims her client was 14 when Sisk first began to make sexual advances. Sexual incidents continued through much of her high school years. Conlin said the woman, identified in court documents only as Jane Doe didn't realize she was emotionally effected until after she met with a psychiatrist in 2011.
She said her client understood the teacher would be in trouble if the sexual activity was discovered, but she didn't realize she was harmed emotionally until years later when "she knew she was troubled and had all kinds of emotional difficulties. She didn't discover it until March 2011 when a psychologist said what happened to you was very wrong and is the reason why you are having problems."
The New London district's attorney, Steven Ort, argued that many of the incidents occurred more than 10 years ago. The girl graduated from high school in 2004 and left New London.
"Without making light or diminishing in any way what happened to Jane Doe, it does not change the fact that all events occurred almost and in many instances, more than 10 years ago," he said. "There is a statute of limitations in Iowa."
He argued that Iowa law and previous court cases have never applied the discovery rule to school districts. He said the courts even invited the Legislature to change the language in 2007 but it did not. For the court to change that, it would have to overturn rulings in three previous cases.
Conlin argued that if the discovery rule does not apply to school districts as it does between private individuals, it would violate the constitutional right of equal protection.
The Supreme Court had granted the school district an appeal from a district court judge's opinion, which denied the district's motions to dismiss the case based on the statute of limitations.
Sisk has never faced criminal charges. The woman sued Sisk and the school district, but Conlin said the case against Sisk has been settled satisfactorily. She declined to discuss the terms of the settlement.
The court could agree with Ort and send the case back to district court for dismissal or agree with Conlin and allow the lawsuit to proceed.