Parties representing Haitian victims of childhood sexual abuse recently announced a $60 million settlement agreement with Fairfield University and other religious organizations for abuse that allegedly occurred over a period of several years at a Haitian boys’ school.
Should the settlement be approved this spring by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chatigny, the lawsuits will be combined into one class-action lawsuit and settlement, and other victims will be allowed to come forward to seek compensation from the $60 million pool.
Plaintiffs Accuse School Founder of Abuse
About 133 plaintiffs claimed to have been sexually abused as minors by Douglas Perlitz, a convicted pedophile and Fairfield University graduate. He, with the help of several Catholic organizations including his alma mater, founded the Haitian boys’ school in 1997.
The school was called “Project Pierre Toussaint” when it was first opened in Cap-Haitian, the second-largest city in Haiti, and was originally an intake center providing services mostly to children who were living on the streets. At Project Pierre Toussaint, the boys received meals, access to running water, and basic classroom instruction. In 1999, the project was expanded to become a residential facility, and the name was changed to Village Pierre Toussaint.
The lawsuits alleged that Perlitz traveled back and forth from Cap-Haitian to Fairfield, Connecticut to raise money for the school, and that from 1999 to 2008, defendants—including Fairfield University and affiliate Catholic groups, the Society of Jesus of New England, the Order of Malta, and Haiti Fund Inc.—donated millions to support his activities while failing to properly supervise Perlitz or anyone else at the school. Court documents show that Perlitz used some of this money to groom his child victims in exchange for sexual acts.
Fairfield University officials stated they played no role in running the school, and that they were not aware of any abuse until it was publicly reported. The Society of Jesus issued a similar statement, saying they were not responsible for the management of the project in Haiti, but hoped the settlement would provide some relief to those affected.
These same institutions also agreed to a $12 million settlement back in 2013, when 24 other victims came forward accusing Perlitz of abuse.
Founder Sentenced to 19 Years in Prison
In December 2010, Douglas Perlitz was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in federal prison for abusing at least 16 homeless boys at the school. U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton also placed Perlitz on 10 years of probation supervision following his release from prison.
Students first started coming forward about the abuse in 2007. The school shut down in the summer of 2009.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs, especially in mass tort litigation, Eric Chaffin prides himself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of his clients and their families. Both his work and his cases have been featured in the national press, including on ABC’s Good Morning America.