Current California law provides that an employee who claims to have been the victim of unlawful discrimination or harassment must file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one-year of the unlawful practice before they can file a civil lawsuit. A bill is under consideration before the state legislature that would extend the deadline for filing to three years.
Proponents of the bill maintain that it takes time for a person to come to grips with having been sexually harassed in the workplace as well as to feel emotionally and economically stable enough to reporting an incident of harassment or discrimination or pattern of behavior. For many, proponents argue, it can take longer than the current one-year filing limitation. It is important to note that, while the impetus for this bill is the #MeToo movement (at least in part), this bill affects complaints for harassment and discrimination on the basis of any protected characteristic, not just sex.
While this may seem like justification enough for a change in the law, the change would not be without consequence, and may not serve the end goal of eradicating harassment and discrimination in the workplace. For example, as articulated by the California Chamber of Commerce, as well as 49 other stakeholder organizations opposed to the bill, “Extending the statute of limitations will reduce the motivation for the victims to quickly come forward. If the employer is not made aware of the harassing or discriminatory conduct, it cannot take the appropriate remedial measures necessary to properly deal with the offender.” In fact, in vetoing a similar measure last year, Governor Brown noted that the one-year filing deadline “not only encourages prompt resolution while memories and evidence are fresh, but also ensures that unwelcome behavior is promptly reported and halted.”
Importantly, the bill explicitly states that the extended limitation does not “revive lapsed claims.” So, if the one-year deadline has passed on a claim prior to the effective date of this new legislation, the new three-year limitations period would not revive that claim.
As of the date of this writing, the bill has passed the Assembly almost unanimously (53-5) and is before the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Employers and their legal representatives will watch this bill closely.