January 26, 2021 —Sauder Schelkopf and co-counsel announce the filing of a federal class action sexual abuse lawsuit in Pennsylvania on behalf of six individuals and a putative class of thousands of other children across the U.S. against Devereux Foundation (a/k/a Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health) and QualityHealth Staffing, LLC. The complaint details multiple alleged violations of state and federal law, including assault; battery; failure to report child abuse; Title IX creation of a sexually hostile culture/heightened risk of sexual harassment; deliberate indifference to prior sexual harassment; negligence and failure to provide safe environment with adequate protection, supervision, and care; negligent hiring of unsuitable personnel; negligent retention of unsuitable personnel; negligent supervision; gross negligence; and negligent misrepresentation.
“The appalling, widespread allegations of the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of vulnerable children entrusted to Devereux’s care shine a light on this large-scale institutional child abuse,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Annika K. Martin, who represents the plaintiffs in the action. “Given its scale, securing immediate relief to stop any ongoing abuses from continuing is as important to our team as getting justice for those who have suffered the abuses at Devereux over the years and even decades.”
One of the largest behavioral health organizations in the country, Devereux has more than 7,500 staff members across 21 facilities in 13 states. Included among Devereux’s facilities and programs are residential treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals, group homes, supported living communities, schools, special education centers, and outpatient programs that focus on troubled youth, including those with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and specialty mental health needs. QualityHealth Staffing, LLC is a subsidiary of Devereux that was formed to assist Devereux with recruiting and retaining individuals to work in the field of behavioral health.
Rather than fulfilling its promise and solemn responsibility to protect children among the country’s most vulnerable youth, as the complaint alleges Devereux instead “exposed [vulnerable youth] to predators and abusers…failed to enact safety measures and other policies to protect the children, failed to adequately screen, hire, train, and supervise staff, and failed to fulfill its duties under state and federal law.” As a result of Devereux’s alleged misconduct, children in Devereux facilities across the country have been reportedly sexually abused – often by Devereux staff.
As reported by the media, some sexual abuse cases against Devereux have already gone to court, including one that led to a jury verdict of $60 million for the plaintiff victim. Widespread media attention has focused on the sexual abuse allegations against Devereux; in August 2020, the Philadelphia Inquirer released a devastating report detailing decades of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse inflicted upon these especially vulnerable children by Devereux staff members. The report revealed that “at least 41 children as young as 12, and with IQs as low as 50, have been raped or sexually assaulted by Devereux staff members in the last 25 years.”
“Given not just the breadth and severity of the allegations against Devereux, but also the sheer number of children still residing under Devereux’s control and supervision,” notes Sauder Schelkopf partner Joe Sauder, who also represents the plaintiffs, “we are committed to moving this case forward and getting protection and justice for our clients and the larger class as quickly as possible.”
The complaint goes on to allege that after the Inquirer’s August 2020 report was published, an additional 13 former Devereux students came forward about the sexual abuse they experienced. These children were as young as 8 years old when they were reportedly sexually abused. Twelve of the children were allegedly abused in Pennsylvania Devereux facilities, and one was allegedly abused in a Delaware facility. Seven of those children reportedly complained to Devereux staff or a social worker while the abuse was happening, but their complaints were allegedly ignored, and the abuse continued.
The complaint includes allegations of the rape and sexual abuse of inpatient clients as well as abuses committed by fellow inpatients that were ignored and/or suppressed by Devereux staff and management. Some patients who raised such allegations claim they were not only disregarded but punished for initiating complaints, including the withholding of food, physical restraint, isolation, and even physical abuse. The lawsuit seeks damages as well as injunctive relief to enjoin Devereux and QualityHealth Staffing from continuing any alleged conduct that threatens imminent harm to the proposed class—vulnerable children drawn from more than a dozen U.S. states.
“Protecting children from abuse is the highest calling in our society,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Mark P. Chalos, who also represents the plaintiffs. “We intend to hold the wrongdoers accountable and to prevent them from endangering children in the future.”
These are only allegations and have not at this time been proven in court.
Sauder Schelkopf has a nationally recognized litigation practice. Our former prosecutors have extensive experience representing victims of all ages. The Legal Intelligencer named Sauder Schelkopf partner Joe Sauder to its 2020 Pennsylvania Trailblazers. The honor recognizes 31 lawyers who “have taken extra measures to contribute to positive outcomes . . . and who are truly agents of change.” The Legal highlights Mr. Sauder’s innovative work on advocacy as class counsel in large institutional sex abuse cover-ups, women’s, and children’s rights.
- We currently represent hundreds of individuals whose rights were violated while they were detained in a juvenile detention facility. Sauder Schelkopf and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of current and former students of The Glen Mills Schools who allege that they were physically and mentally abused while attending the School.
- Sauder Schelkopf, and co-counsel, recently reached a $215 million settlement on behalf of female patients of Dr. George Tyndall, a gynecologist at the University of Southern California accused of sexual misconduct since the 1990s.
- We have represented survivors of clergy sexual abuse in dioceses throughout the country.
- We have a class action lawsuit pending on behalf of males who were victims of sexual misconduct by Dr. Richard Strauss, the Ohio State team doctor, while they were students and student-athletes at Ohio State University.
- We have been court-appointed as Interim Co-Class Counsel to represent former students of the University of Michigan who were victims of sexual misconduct by Dr. Robert E. Anderson, former director of University Health Service, and a former athletic team physician, who worked at the University of Michigan from 1968 until his retirement in 2003.
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If you are a survivor of physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, you can confidentially contact the lawyers at Sauder Schelkopf by filling out the form on this page or calling 888.711.9975