Prior to January 1, 2020, employees alleging harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other claims under California’s Fair Employment Housing Act (“FEHA”) had only one year from the most recent date of unlawful conduct (e.g., sexual harassment, discipline, demotion, refused promotion, termination) to file an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). This requirement was an absolute, nonnegotiable prerequisite to filing a civil lawsuit for FEHA claims. Unless extended by very limited circumstances, the employee lost the right to sue their employer and to seek damages for these claims if he or she missed the one-year deadline. But after almost 60 years in effect, the one-year statute of limitation has finally been extended. Below, we cover what has changed and what the changes mean for employees who have suffered unlawful conduct.
New Bill Extends Ability To Pursue Legal Action
Recognizing a host of reasons why employee victims cannot always meet the strict one-year deadline – including needing time to fully grasp what happened to them before feeling comfortable to come forward, overcoming fears of retaliation, and being unaware of their rights – California Governor Gavin Newson signed Assembly Bill (AB) 9, known as the Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension (SHARE) Act. Beginning on January 1, 2020, employees now have a total of three years from the most recent date of unlawful conduct to file their DFEH complaint. As before, once the employee satisfies this administrative prerequisite, they have the option of having the DFEH investigate their complaint and receiving a “Right to Sue” at the conclusion of the investigation or receiving an immediate Right to Sue. In either event, the employee still has only one additional year from date of the Right to Sue Notice to file their FEHA claims in court.
Importantly, the SHARE Act explicitly does not revive claims that already lapsed under the prior one-year rule (essentially, any unfiled claims that arose before January 1, 2019). The Act did not, however, specifically address which limitation period applies to claims that occurred between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, though the analysis by the Senate Judiciary Committee suggests that the statute of limitation for those claims will expire in 2022 instead of 2020. And going forward, all employee victims will get the benefit of the three-year expansion.
How the Extension Benefits Employees
It is difficult to understate the importance of this change and how much it will help victims of unlawful conduct in the workplace. Previously, many employees were limited in their ability to recover damages due to the one-year deadline. There are many scenarios where someone may not be prepared to pursue legal action within that brief time frame. In instances of sexual harassment or assault, it can take many months or even years to process the inappropriate actions. If one is still employed by a company, it can easy to become intimidated by the specter of retaliatory actions. You might also attempt to pursue a matter internally through a company's HR department, an often labyrinthine process that results in your very real injuries being lost in an endless bureaucracy.
HR Departments tend to protect the company, not you, and many employees do not realize the extent of their legal options when they have been measurably injured by unlawful employer conduct. In some situations, individuals may not even realize that an employer was behaving unlawfully. While one could previously pursue legal action against employers from one year following the discovery of unlawful conduct, proving the point discovery represents another legal hurdle for employees to overcome.
The new three-year timeline gives many wronged employees the ability to evaluate the full extent of their options and come to a decision on whether they wish to pursue formal legal action. If you believe you have been the victim of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, and the most recent incident of unlawful conduct occurred on or after January 1, 2019, you may be able to hold your employer legally accountable. Our employment attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP can meet with you and assess the facts of your situation. We can then determine if you have a case and walk you through your legal options.
The new law gives you extra time to pursue legal action against your employer, but do not wait to call (619) 468-5222 or contact us online if you believe you have a claim.