Meet Abraham Freud. He is a special-education teacher working for New York City Department of Education. Freud is an Orthodox Jew, who feels that his employer has been discriminating against him for a long time – in fact, too long a period of time.
What is a statute of limitations and why is it important?
A statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit within which legal proceedings must be initiated. It establishes a deadline by which a lawsuit must be filed, after which the right to sue is lost.
The purpose of a statute of limitations is to ensure that legal disputes are resolved in a timely manner. It provides certainty and finality to legal claims by preventing parties from bringing claims after a certain period of time has passed.
Statutes of limitations are important because they provide a measure of fairness and predictability in the legal system. They give defendants a degree of protection from stale or frivolous claims by limiting the time period within which a plaintiff can bring a lawsuit. They also help preserve the integrity of evidence, as memories fade and evidence may become lost or difficult to obtain over time.
In addition, statutes of limitations encourage plaintiffs to pursue their claims promptly, while the evidence is still fresh and the potential damages can be remedied. This allows for a more efficient and effective resolution of disputes and reduces the burden on the legal system.
It is important to note that statutes of limitations vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of claim. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the applicable statute of limitations when pursuing a legal claim. Failing to file a claim within the prescribed time limit may result in the claim being time-barred, and the plaintiff may lose the right to seek relief.
What is the statute of limitations to bring an employment discrimination claim?
To pursue a claim for employment discrimination under federal law, employees must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Under federal law, the federal statute of limitations to file a charge with the EEOC for a discrimination or wrongful termination claim based on race/color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, disability, or age is generally 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act. However, if a state has its own anti-discrimination laws and agency, the deadline may be extended to 300 days.
In Freud v. New York City Department of Education, No. 22-879, 2023 WL 3103588 (2d Cir. Apr. 27, 2023), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that Freud waited to long and lost most of his claims:
The district court properly concluded that most of Freud’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation were untimely. A Title VII claim is time-barred if it is not filed “with the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)] within 180 [days] or, in states like New York that have local administrative mechanisms for pursuing discrimination claims, 300 days ‘after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.’ “ Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 79 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1)). Because Freud – who resided and worked in New York – filed his charges with the EEOC on February 6, 2020, his discrimination and retaliation claims that occurred prior to April 12, 2019 are barred by Title VII’s statute of limitation.
Id. at *1.
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What is the continuing-violation doctrine, and can it save my time-barred claims?
Maybe. The continuing-violation doctrine is a legal principle used in employment discrimination cases to extend the time period within which an employee can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
Under this doctrine, the time period for filing a charge of discrimination is extended if the employer’s discriminatory conduct is part of a continuing pattern of behavior rather than a discrete, isolated act. This means that even if the employee is outside the standard time period for filing a charge of discrimination, the employee may still be able to file a charge if the discriminatory conduct was part of an ongoing pattern that continued into the time period for filing.
The continuation doctrine is based on the principle that discrimination in the workplace is often not a one-time event, but a series of actions or decisions that occur over time. Examples of a continuing violation might include a company-wide policy or practice that results in ongoing discrimination, such as a promotion process that systematically excludes women or minorities.
To establish a continuing violation, an employee must show that there was a pattern of discriminatory behavior that occurred within the time period for filing a charge of discrimination, and that the most recent act of discrimination occurred within the time period. If the employee is able to establish a continuing violation, the time period for filing a charge of discrimination is extended to include all of the discriminatory acts that occurred as part of the pattern.
It is important to note that the continuation doctrine is a complex legal principle and its application can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Therefore, it is advisable to consult with an employment attorney to determine whether this doctrine may be applicable in a particular case.
In an effort to save his claims, Freud argued that the continuing-violation doctrine applied to save his claims. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected this argument as well:
Freud nonetheless argues that his claims are timely under the continuing-violation doctrine, which “applies to claims composed of a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one unlawful practice,” Gonzalez v. Hasty, 802 F.3d 212, 220 (2d Cir. 2015) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted), and “functions to delay the commencement of the statute[-]of[-]limitations period until the last discriminatory act in furtherance of that broader unlawful practice,” Tassy v. Buttigieg, 51 F.4th 521, 532 (2d Cir. 2022) (internal quotation marks omitted). But the Supreme Court has made clear that “discrete discriminatory acts are not [themselves] actionable if time[-]barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges.” Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113–14 (2002) (explaining that “acts such as termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire” are clearly discrete adverse actions). To toll Title VII’s statute of limitation, a plaintiff must instead “allege both the existence of an ongoing policy … and some non-time-barred acts taken in furtherance of that policy.” Lucente v. County of Suffolk, 980 F.3d 284, 309 (2d Cir. 2020). Indeed, “[t]o hold otherwise would render meaningless the time limitations imposed on discrimination actions.” Lightfoot v. Union Carbide Corp., 110 F.3d 898, 907–08 (2d Cir. 1997).
Here, the district court correctly observed that the complaint “parades a laundry list of discrete acts, untethered from any relation to each other.”
Id. at *1–2.
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How will an employment lawyer help me from missing statutes of limitations?
An experienced employment lawyer at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm can help you avoid missing statutes of limitations by closely monitoring deadlines, providing guidance on when and how to file claims, and ensuring that all necessary paperwork is filed on time. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical; Employment Law: Avoid Hiring The Wrong Attorney). Here are some ways an employment lawyer can help you avoid missing statutes of limitations:
- Identifying applicable deadlines: A Spitz employment lawyer can help you determine the relevant deadlines and statutes of limitations for your claim. They can also advise you on whether there are any circumstances that may extend the deadline, such as the discovery rule or the continuing violation doctrine.
- Monitoring deadlines: A Spitz employment attorney can best help you keep track of important deadlines and ensure that you do not miss any filing deadlines. They may use a calendar or case management software to keep track of all relevant deadlines.
- Filing documents on time: A wrongful termination law firm, like Spitz, can help you ensure that all necessary paperwork is filed on time, including initial complaints, responses, and appeals. They can also provide guidance on the required forms and documentation needed to file a claim.
- Communicating with agencies: An employment discrimination lawyer can communicate with government agencies such as the EEOC or state labor departments on your behalf. They can also ensure that all necessary forms and documentation are provided to these agencies in a timely manner.
- Preparing for litigation: If your case proceeds to litigation, it is important to have a large and powerful team to prepare you for court, including gathering evidence, preparing witnesses, and developing legal arguments to support your claim.
Overall, an experienced employment lawyer from Spitz can help you navigate the complex legal landscape of employment law and ensure that you do not miss any important deadlines. This can be crucial to the success of your case and can help you achieve a favorable outcome.
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