Second Circuit Rules 300-Day Limitations Period Does Not Apply to "Background Evidence" of Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is prohibited by federal law. More precisely, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) states an employer cannot discriminate against any employee or job applicant over the age of 40 “with respect to his [or her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,” solely on account of age. The ADEA covers both specific acts of discrimination–i.e., refusing to hire someone based on age–as well as age-based harassment, which typically involves a series of events.

Former Retail Employee Allowed to Proceed with Harassment Lawsuit

Normally, the ADEA requires an affected party to file a complaint within 300 days of the discriminatory act. But the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals here in New York recently issued an important decision that clarifies the application of this 300-day deadline to age-based harassment cases. The specific case before the Court, Davis-Garrett v. Urban Outfitters, involves both allegations of harassment and illegal retaliation.

The plaintiff previously worked for the defendant, which owned a retail store at a mall on Long Island. She was 54 years old at the time of hiring, which was in 2012. According to her lawsuit, the plaintiff said most of the other employees at the store were in their 20s and 30s and, as a result, received preferential treatment. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged the younger associates received certain training and assignments that she was denied. Later, the plaintiff said she was reassigned to one of the defendant's other stores in White Plains “because of the demographics” in that area. At the White Plains store, the plaintiff said she was still assigned to “less desirable duties” based on her age.

The plaintiff was later transferred to a third store in Connecticut, but she ended up leaving the company altogether a few weeks later. The plaintiff ultimately filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination under the ADEA, as well as New York and Connecticut state law, in December 2015. A trial judge, however, granted summary judgment to the defendant after refusing to consider any evidence of harassment that occurred more than 300 days before the plaintiff filed her complaint.

On appeal, the Second Circuit held that this was a mistake on the trial judge's part. While the 300-day limit strictly applies to “discrete discriminatory or retaliatory acts,” when considering a “hostile work environment” claim that alleges a pattern of harassment that takes place “over a series of days or perhaps years,” a trial court may consider older acts of discrimination so long as at least one of the acts involve falls within the limitations period. In other words, as long as the plaintiff alleged at least one discriminatory act within the 300-day window–which she did–the trial court may also consider earlier acts as “background evidence.”

Speak with a New York Age Discrimination Lawyer Today

The Second Circuit's ruling is welcome news for older workers who are subject to workplace harassment. Even with this ruling, it is important not to wait around before taking action against a hostile working environment. If you need advice or assistance on how to deal with age discrimination, contact Nisar Law Group, P.C. today to schedule a consultation with a New York City employment attorney.

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