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ELCRA lets employees go back only 3 years to show hostile work environment

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Sometimes, employees who finally come forward and allege they worked in hostile work environments will reach back years—even decades—to catalog the harassment they claim they experienced. The sheer weight of the list may unfairly sway juries.

But fortunately for Michigan employers, there is no continuing-violation claim available under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). Employees can go back only three years (the ELCRA statute of limitations) from the date the complaint was filed.

Recent case: Andrea Schmitt worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative and claimed that over a five-year period her managers sexually harassed her. But she didn’t file a complaint until April 14, 2006. Going back three years, she could point to only a few instances of arguably sexually charged conduct—including a manager who ordered her “suggestive” drinks, a comment on a co-worker’s naked baby photo as child porn and a manager’s laughter at a co-worker’s comment that Schmitt had a “big rack.”

The court ruled that none of this added up to a hostile work environment and refused to consider earlier, more egregious conduct by Schmitt’s supervisors. (Schmitt v. Solvay Pharmaceuticals, No. 06-11791, ED MI, 2007)

Final note: Under the federal Title VII, employees can go back further and list earlier incidents—if at least one incident occurred during the 300 days before the EEOC complaint was filed. Schmitt couldn’t point to a single event that happened within 300 days, so she couldn’t use evidence of any acts that happened earlier.

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