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What is the Statute of Limitations in Employment Law Cases?

All federal employment laws have a deadline by which a plaintiff must file a lawsuit before he or she will lose that right forever. This deadline is known as the “statute of limitations.” If a plaintiff files a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed, the defendant can request the court to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, which means the plaintiff cannot not refile the lawsuit.

However, in some circumstances, a plaintiff may be able to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed, but only if the plaintiff can prove: (1) that he or she diligently pursued his or her rights, and (2) that “some extraordinary circumstance” stood in his or her way that prevented the timely filing. This is known as the “equitable tolling” doctrine.

Equitable Tolling in the Context of Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, known as “Title VII”, is a federal law that prohibits discrimination and retaliation based on protected characteristics in the workplace.

There are two (2) important statutes of limitation in Title VII cases

  • The first is an individual’s deadline to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Generally, an individual must file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC within 180 days of the date of the last discriminatory or retaliatory action.
  • The second statute of limitation is an individual’s deadline to file a lawsuit in federal court after a decision is made by the EEOC. Once the EEOC has closed out its file on the Charge of Discrimination, and issued the appropriate Right-to-Sue Notice, an individual has 90 days to file a lawsuit. Title VII’s timely-filing requirements are not jurisdictional, and as such, are subject to equitable tolling.

Equitable tolling is an “extraordinary measure” and courts are reluctant to apply it. Thus, in order to receive additional time beyond the statute of limitations, a plaintiff must show due diligence and extraordinary circumstances. These are both high burdens for the plaintiff to meet. A plaintiff may be able to satisfy the due diligence requirement if he or she can demonstrate that he or she should not have known about the underlying issue of the case. A plaintiff may be able to satisfy the extraordinary circumstances requirement if he or she is able to show “fraud, misinformation, or deliberate concealment.” If such is the case, the Court may excuse and extend the applicable statute of limitation.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed a District Court’s ruling that the plaintiffs did not prove circumstances warranting equitable tolling. In affirming the District Court’s finding, the Eleventh Circuit held that the plaintiffs had to prove both due diligence and extraordinary circumstances, and that the plaintiffs could not do so because they were on notice of the employer’s actions.

Need Help with an Employment Law Violation

If you feel your employment rights have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you.