Sixth Circuit Holds Title IX Claim Does Not Accrue Until Plaintiff Knows Or Has Reason To Know Of Injury

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters, Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education, Public Education
DATE: Oct 03, 2022

Dr. Strauss was a university physician and athletic team doctor at the Ohio State University (the University) who allegedly abused hundreds of young male students under the guise of performing medical examinations. The abuse occurred between 1978 and 1998.  Dr. Strauss served as a physician until 1996 when the University placed him on leave while it investigated his conduct and ultimately decided to terminate his employment with the Athletics Department. Dr. Strauss remained at the University as a faculty member. The University also did not publicly provide reasons for these decisions.

In 2018, the University conducted an independent investigation into Dr. Strauss’s conduct, which substantiated the allegations of abuse. The investigation report found that many students complained to the University about Dr. Strauss’s examinations of male students, but despite this, the University took no meaningful action to prevent the abuse. Additionally, the University required students to be examined and treated by Dr. Strauss, often implicitly making students feel that they risked their scholarships or athletic opportunities if they refused. Dr. Strauss’s victims subsequently brought Title IX suits against the University alleging that the University was deliberately indifferent to their heightened risk of abuse. The plaintiffs argued that the University knew about, facilitated, and covered up Dr. Strauss’s sexual abuse. The trial court rejected the plaintiffs’ claims as untimely and barred by the statute of limitations.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court and rejected the argument that the plaintiffs’ claims were untimely. The Sixth Court concluded that the “discovery rule” determines when a Title IX claim begins to accrue. Under the discovery rule, a claim accrues when a plaintiff knows or has reason to know that the defendant injured them. In other words, the plaintiff must discover both their injury and its cause. In this case, the Sixth Circuit noted that many plaintiffs adequately alleged they did not know they were abused until 2018, and at the time of the abuse, they were young and did not know what was medically appropriate. Rather, Dr. Strauss gave them pretextual, false medical explanations for the abuse, and the plaintiffs did not have reason to know that others had previously complained about Strauss’s conduct. Additionally, the University’s failure to adequately investigate the complaints it received over decades against Strauss, its misrepresentations to students about its knowledge of Strauss’ conduct, and its decision to allow him to quietly step away from his university job, all blocked the students from comprehending the full extent of OSU’s enabling role in the abuse. This concealment means that the two-year statute of limitations within which the plaintiffs must bring a suit did not start at the time of the abuse but at the time the University disclosed the full extent of it.

Snyder-Hill v. The Ohio State University (6th Cir. 2022) WL 4233750.


This is a case from the Sixth Circuit and therefore not binding authority in California. However, this case provides educational institutions with insight into how a federal court interpreted the statute of limitations for a Title IX claim.

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