By Lawrence P. Schaefer |
The #MeToo movement has spurred many women to re-evaluate whether to challenge or complain about past instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. I’ve talked to dozens of potential clients over the past month who have described horrible incidents of past abuse and harassment in the workplace, asking if they can now step forward and take legal action. Unfortunately, many of these incidents occurred many years ago, and I have to inform these women that the statute of limitations has expired, so no legal action can be taken. This blog explains the legal timeline for a victim of sexual harassment to take action.
When to Report Sexual Harassment
Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, a legal claim for sexual harassment must generally be started within one year of the alleged harassment. This claim can be started by either filing a public lawsuit, or by filing a charge of discrimination (sexual harassment is generally considered a form of gender discrimination) with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Under federal law, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the limitations period is even shorter –300 days — and in some jurisdictions (outside of Minnesota), it can be as short as 180 days.
Sexual Harassment Timeline: A Few Considerations
There may be additional facts to consider when evaluating the timeliness of sexual harassment claims. For instance, if an adverse action has been taken, or an employment benefit denied in connection with the harassment, the 300-day or one-year deadline may only start to run at the date of the adverse action or denial of benefit, rather than the date of the underlying harassing conduct. Furthermore, if harassment has persisted over the course of a long period of time, and at least one incident of this pattern falls within the 300-day or one-year window, then all such actions can give rise to a legal claim under the “continuing violation” doctrine.
Finally, if you’ve waited to assert a claim because you were threatened by the harasser, or you previously tried to register a complaint but this effort was thwarted by someone in a position of authority at the company (including human resources), an attorney can determine if this misconduct might “stop the clock” on the limitations period (also referred to as “tolling), and allow you to prosecute a claim even though the conduct occurred more than a year or 300 days ago.
Don’t Rule Out Assault and Battery, or Negligent Supervision
The behavior constituting sexual harassment can also, independently, give rise to other legal claims, such as common law assault and/or battery, or negligent retention or supervision, all of which have a two-year statute of limitations. It’s important to retain legal counsel experienced in identifying all possible legal claims.
It’s Not Too Late to Let the Employer Know
Even if the harassment you’ve experienced occurred more than two years ago, you may want to consider retaining legal counsel to bring a complaint to the attention of your current or former employer. While it may be too late to prosecute a claim and recover damages, any responsible employer will likely investigate and could take corrective action against the perpetrator, especially if it is an individual in a position of authority in the corporate hierarchy. Even if this doesn’t happen, your complaint will then be “on-record” and this could be very significant if additional complaints are brought against the same perpetrator. The #MeToo movement is as much about making the workplace safe in the future as it is about recovering damages.
The #MeToo phenomenon has, thankfully, raised awareness about this issue in the workplace, and emboldened many employees and former employees to speak out against abuse. Even if your claim may not be considered “timely” under the above legal requirements, consult with experienced legal counsel to fully evaluate your options. You can Contact Us to confidentially review your situation with us. We are always here to advocate for your rights to a safe and harassment-free workplace.
Lawrence P. Schaefer serves as the firm’s President and head of litigation. Over the course of his long and often ground-breaking career, Larry has taken on some of the largest and most powerful companies in the country, helping tens of thousands of people.