Providence attorney secures wins in civil rights, education.

 
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Byline: Barry Bridges

This is the first in a series of profiles honoring RILW's 2018 Lawyers of the Year. The series will continue in the issues of Dec. 24 and 31.

Among the standout Rhode Island court holdings in 2018 were two federal decisions that spoke to civil rights protections under Title IX and the state's responsibility of providing special education services to students with disabilities.

In consideration of a motion to dismiss in Doe v. Brown University, U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr. ruled in September that the "continuing violation doctrine" applies to Title IX hostile environment/sexual harassment claims, thus defeating a statute of limitations defense put forth by the university. It was the first court within the 1st Circuit to recognize the doctrine in the context of Title IX.

Then, in November, a panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in K.L. v. Rhode Island Board of Education, et al. vacated a trial court decision in ruling that Rhode Island school districts, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, are required to provide a "free appropriate public education" to individuals with disabilities until the age of 22 because educational programming is provided to students of the same age without disabilities.

A common denominator in the holdings was Sonja L. Deyoe, the Providence attorney who represented the plaintiff in each case.

Having practiced law for nearly 20 years, Deyoe decided to hang out her shingle in 2013 and now primarily focuses on employment discrimination.

But the former Army and Air Force reservist takes on additional causes when she thinks she can make a difference, particularly in civil rights matters.

"My goal is to do what I can to help people in areas where they are most likely to be benefited," she says. "With a class of around 1,600, the special education case has been the perfect example of being able to engage in litigation that has a lot of impact, and that's important to me."

Deyoe was influenced by her family and by the farming community in which she was raised in upstate New York, where service to others was an instilled value.

"Whatever I'm doing, that is part of my end game," she says.

The civil litigator recently took time out to discuss the significance of her recent successes.

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Q. What is the significance of the "continuing violation" holding and what is happening with the case now?

A. The litigation is ongoing and at this point we're doing discovery...

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