What ‘Equitable Tolling’ and ‘Continuing Violations’ Are and How They Can Help You in Your California Workplace Discrimination Case

The law in California requires a worker to file an administrative complaint for discrimination with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within one year of the discriminatory actions. The good news for workers, though, is that there are circumstances where the law may give you extra time to file a complaint with DFEH or file a lawsuit with the court. One way this can happen is through something that the law calls “equitable tolling.” Another legal concept that may help your case is something called a “continuing violation” of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. These tools can help you present to the court a fuller and more persuasive case and potentially entitle you to a larger sum of compensation. The key thing is to make absolutely sure that you don’t wait too long, as that could cost you your case entirely. Contact a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney to learn more about your options and deadlines.

J.B. was a Northern California worker whose discrimination case focused heavily on those deadlines. J.B. was an openly gay man who worked for the California Highway Patrol from 1996 to 2016. During those two decades, J.B. allegedly suffered through many injustices, including “derogatory, homophobic comments,” being “singled him out for pranks” and having his mailbox “repeatedly defaced.” On top of those things, other officers also allegedly “refused to provide him with backup assistance during enforcement stops in the field.”

Eventually, the discrimination and harassment took their toll, according to J.B. He filed a workers’ compensation claim in January 2015. In that action, he stated that he had begun having “headaches, muscle pain, stomach issues, anxiety and stress.” He was also allegedly suicidal due to problems at work. J.B. won his workers’ comp case. That ruling came down in October 2015 and, four months later, he left his job. Several months after leaving, J.B. filed a claim with the DFEH and filed a discrimination lawsuit the next day.

The employer tried to get the officer’s lawsuit thrown out on a technical matter regarding filing deadlines, arguing that J.B. had waited too long to take legal action.

Tools that can help you further strengthen your case

J.B. used the tool of equitable tolling as one of the arguments in his case. Specifically, the officer argued that his filing of his workers’ compensation claim in January 2015 should have been sufficient to “stop the clock on his one-year filing deadline.” He also asserted that the harm he suffered qualified as a “continuing violation” under the law, so he could present evidence of discrimination that occurred prior to 2014.

The Court of Appeal concluded that J.B. was entitled to use both these arguments. The equitable tolling argument could give J.B. an extra 285 days (which was the period of time during which the workers’ compensation case was pending.)

The continuing violation argument, if successful, could be even more valuable. In a case where you argue the existence of a continuing violation, you can, if you properly allege that the discriminatory acts that occurred before the limitations were “sufficiently connected” to the discriminatory acts that took place during the limitations period, use events that occurred months or even years beyond that one-year period set out by the statute of limitations.

All of these tools require a careful and in-depth knowledge of the law. To make sure you have that powerful resource on your side, contact the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Attorney Fuerch is an experienced Oakland employment attorney who has helped countless workers harmed by discrimination to use the legal system and achieve successful outcomes. To learn more, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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