Lawsuit alleges Devereux exposed children to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by harboring predators and abusers on its staff and failing to enact or enforce safety measures and protective policies
Lieff Cabraser and Sauder Schelkopf have filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of children exposed to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse while in the care of The Devereux Foundation (d/b/a Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health) along with its staffing company QualityHealth Staffing, LLC. Through 21 facilities across 13 states, each year Devereux takes on responsibility for protecting more than 25,000 of our country’s most vulnerable members: children with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and specialty mental health needs, including youth in the child welfare system. As the complaint in the lawsuit alleges, instead of fulfilling its promise and solemn responsibility to protect these vulnerable individuals, Devereux instead exposed them to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, by harboring predators and abusers on its staff, and by failing to enact or enforce safety measures and other policies to protect them.
The complaint details hundreds of incidents of abuse against children in the care of Devereux, including batteries, sexual offenses, emotional abuse, and rape. 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 reveals 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.”
After the Inquirer’s August 2020 report was published, an additional 13 former Devereux students came forward with allegations of sexual abuse they experienced. These children were as young as 8 years old when they were sexually abused. Twelve of the children were allegedly abused in Pennsylvania Devereux facilities, and one was abused in a Delaware Devereux facility. Seven of those children reportedly complained to Devereux staff or a social worker while the abuse was happening, but their complaints were ignored and the abuse continued.
The plaintiffs bring the lawsuit to hold Devereux accountable for the harm it has caused and to prevent this devastating abuse from happening to anyone else in Devereux’s care.
“The only thing more horrifying than the nature of the offenses against children uncovered here is their breadth,” noted Lieff Cabraser partner Annika K. Martin, who represents the plaintiff and the class in the suit. “This callous and destructive treatment of children obviously needs to be stopped, and our plaintiff-clients feel a class action lawsuit is the most powerful and efficient means to bring about justice and change for these children.”
Devereux is a private behavioral health organization which operates 21 campuses in 13 states, annually treating more than 25,000 children and young adults with advanced behavioral, intellectual, developmental, and mental health needs. 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.
Devereux regularly receives state and federal funding, examples of which include: funding from the Florida legislature to expand Devereux Florida’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Program; funding from “a combination of contracts and private foundation and government grants, including the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs” for Devereux’s Center for Effective Schools (a non-profit research and training center which is a division of Devereux Institute of Clinical and Professional Training and Research); grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to develop programs for Devereux CARES, which has been licensed as an “Approved Private School;” and a $40.2 million contract from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to house migrant youth at Devereux facilities in five states.
“This is a class action about policy failures by Devereux that unnecessarily put all its patients — including the named plaintiff — at increased risk of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse,” adds Sauder Schelkopf partner Joseph Sauder, who also represents the plaintiff in the suit. “That increased risk also manifested into abuse of Plaintiff and other Devereux patients, and Devereux exacerbated that trauma by improperly responding to that abuse.”
The suit advances claims that include negligence, negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent supervision, gross negligence, vicarious liability, assault and battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary duty, and seeks injunctive as well as equitable relief. The injunctive relief sought includes the implementation of rigorous hiring and screening protocols; robust sexual reactivity training, increased supervision, revised guidelines governing staff/patient interactions, compliance with visibility requirements, and improved monitoring infrastructure.
Joseph G. Sauder
SAUDER SCHELKOPF LLC
1109 Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, PA 19312
Tel: (610) 200-0581
Facsimile: (610) 421-1326
Annika K. Martin
LIEFF CABRASER HEIMANN & BERNSTEIN, LLP
250 Hudson Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10013
Phone: (212) 355-9500
Facsimile: (212) 355-9592