Timing matters when it comes to employment discrimination claims. Federal and state laws impose strict deadlines for employees who may be the victims of discrimination or retaliation to file a complaint or bring a formal lawsuit. If the employee fails to comply with these deadlines, even inadvertently, a judge may dismiss the case without reaching the merits.
Court Bars Lawsuit Based on Previously Elapsed Complaint Letter
Exactly when the clock “begins to run” on an employee's claim is often not self-evident. Consider this recent decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals here in New York City. The plaintiff, who is described in court records as a “gay, black man from Haiti,” is a former New York City civil servant. He alleged that while employed by the City in 2011, his supervisor “made derogatory comments about black people, gay people, and Haitians.” The plaintiff also said the supervisor overlooked him for promotions in favor of less-qualified white women.
Starting in July 2011, the plaintiff filed complaints with the EEOC and the New York State Division of Human Rights. These complaints are generally a necessary pretext to bringing a private employment discrimination lawsuit. After filing his complaints, the plaintiff said his supervisor and other city officials “engage in a retaliatory campaign” against him, which included relieving the plaintiff of most of his job responsibilities.
For some reason, the plaintiff did not immediately file a lawsuit after he was cleared to do so by the EEOC. Instead, another three years elapsed. In 2014, the plaintiff filed a new retaliation complaint with the EEOC and the state. Finally, the plaintiff finally decided it was time to sue the City for both the original discriminatory acts and the subsequent retaliation.
Unfortunately, as the Second Circuit explained, the time had elapsed for the plaintiff to seek damages for the acts giving rise to his 2011 complaint. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the primary federal law governing employment discrimination, a New York employee must file a discrimination charge with the EEOC within 300 days of when the “alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” Once this statute of limitations expires, the plaintiff is barred from suing.
In other words, since the plaintiff did not sue when he had a chance to do so after filing his 2011 complaint, he was barred from doing so now. His lawsuit is therefore limited to retaliatory incidents that occurred within the 300-day period preceding his 2014 EEOC complaint.
Speak With a New York Employment Discrimination Attorney Today
Too many New York workers lose out on the benefits of anti-discrimination laws because they fail to understand or follow the applicable legal deadlines. Do not put yourself in this situation. If you have been the victim of illegal or discriminatory acts at work, you should contact a qualified New York employment law attorney as soon as possible. Even if you are not prepared to file an immediate claim or lawsuit, an employment discrimination lawyer can walk you through the legal process and make sure you do not defeat your own case before it begins. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, if you need to speak with an attorney today.