The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employees to file complaints with the appropriate state agency within one year of an alleged discriminatory act. But what happens if the employee delays going to the agency and instead tries to resolve the complaint using the employer’s own internal process? Does that give the employee extra time?
The answer is yes, according to the California Supreme Court.
Recent case: John McDonald, Sylvia Brown and Sallie Stryker filed suit against the Antelope Valley Community College District, alleging racial harassment, racial discrimination and retaliation.
The college tried to have the case dismissed, alleging that the employees had missed their one-year deadline. The employees argued they should be able to sue because they had tried to use the college’s internal grievance process to resolve the matter—and shouldn’t be punished for doing so.
The California Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations on a FEHA claim is subject to equitable tolling—that is, employees get a time extension—when an employee voluntarily pursues an internal administrative remedy before filing a complaint under the FEHA. (McDonald v. Antelope Valley Community College District, No. S153964, California Supreme Court, 2008)
Final note: Here’s all the incentive you need to try to promptly resolve discrimination complaints. Delays don’t make the problem go away. Instead, delays just mean it will take longer for the lawsuit to be filed—and that increases the chance that faulty memories (or staff departures) will make important testimony unavailable.