Deciding When the ‘Clock’ Starts Running for the Statute of Limitations in Your California FEHA Case

In some situations, the key to your success in your Fair Employment and Housing Act case may be related to some factual aspect of your case. In other circumstances, it may be the procedural rules related to FEHA lawsuits that potentially stand to make the difference between defeat and an opportunity to pursue your day in court. For one Southern California college professor, he was able to proceed only after he persuaded the Court of Appeal that his case was not barred by the statute of limitations. Making sure that you are in compliance with these and other procedural rules is one area where an experienced Oakland employment attorney can provide you with invaluable assistance.

The professor was a man named Guillermo, a Hispanic male of Mexican origin. He taught at a community college in Southern California. In November 2013, the professor’s employer decided not to grant him tenure. The final written notice of the denial of tenure was dated March 5, 2014. The professor initiated a grievance review procedure. That process reached its endpoint when a committee denied the professor’s grievance on May 21, 2014.

The employer terminated the professor’s employment on June 30, 2014, the last day of the 2013-14 academic year. On June 29, 2015, the professor filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging that he was a victim of race discrimination in violation of the FEHA. The professor followed that up with a FEHA lawsuit against the employer.

California law says that an employee has one year to file a complaint with DFEH in order to be able to bring a discrimination lawsuit under the FEHA. The crux of this case involved whether or not the professor’s DFEH complaint was made within that mandatory one-year period. The employer argued that it wasn’t and that the one-year period started when the committee decided to deny tenure back in November 2013. (Starting the “clock” at this date would make the professor’s complaint more than six months too late.)

The professor, on the other hand, argued that the time period couldn’t start until the actual date of termination. Using that date, the DFEH complaint was just barely timely. (In fact, any of the dates — Nov. 2013, March 2014, or May 2014 — except that actual date of termination — June 30, 2014 — would have resulted in the case being time-barred.) The trial court sided with the employer and dismissed the professor’s lawsuit.

The court of appeal, however, reversed that ruling and reinstated the professor’s case. The court decided that, although it was persuaded by the employer’s argument that the one-year period should start at the date that the employer denied tenure, a previous California Supreme Court ruling compelled it to rule for the employee.

The Supreme Court case, decided in 1996, involved a human resources director at a major corporation. The employee in that case first learned of his impending termination on Dec. 6, 1988. His employment did not terminate until May 1991, however. The Supreme Court declared that the legislature had passed the FEHA to remedy things like employment discrimination, and the remedial feature of the law would be better served by allowing employees to bring discrimination complaints at any time within one year of the actual date of termination. Using this later date, the court explained, would increase the chances that discrimination cases would be decided on their merits, rather than on procedural grounds like limitations periods.

In your discrimination case, your knowledgeable California employment attorney can help you at every step in the process, making sure that you are putting together the case you need and meeting all of the procedural rules and deadlines required by the law. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have been helping workers who’ve been wrongfully terminated or harmed by discrimination in the workplace for many years. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Workplace Absences and How They Can Influence Your California Disability Discrimination Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Dec. 15, 2016

EEOC’s Investigation in California Man’s Discrimination Claim Extends Filing Deadline, Making Lawsuit Timely, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Aug. 15, 2016

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