In this blog and elsewhere, you may see phrases like “act today” and “don’t delay” when considering contacting an experienced New Jersey employment attorney if you think you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination and/or harassment. That’s good advice, because, while there are many reasons people might feel the urge to delay taking action, none of them will help, and none will be any comfort, when a potentially winnable discrimination case gets dismissed because it was filed too late.
Consider the lawsuit filed by S.J., a legal administrative assistant in the Morristown office of a major multi-state law firm, as a cautionary tale. According to the woman, I.S., one of the male attorneys working in the office’s labor and employment department began engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct in 2014, including sexually explicit texts and non-consensual touching of her breasts and genitals.
Allegedly, the assistant complained about the attorney to her office administrator but, rather than take action, the administrator told the assistant “that if she was unhappy…, she should look for another job.” Eventually, the firm fired S.J. in June 2017.
S.J. sued the firm and the attorney in federal court, alleging multiple claims. One of those claims was sex discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The law in New Jersey says that not all discriminatory conduct is the basis for a successful judgment and award of compensation. In order for the discrimination you’ve suffered to lead to a successful outcome in court, you must prove that the discrimination you suffered was “severe or pervasive.”
Here, it might appear that S.J. had enough evidence to meet that severe or pervasive standard, especially if her evidence showed that the salacious texts and forcible groping occurred repeatedly over the final three years of her time with the firm. Nevertheless, the court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the law firm.
Why didn’t this employee get her day in court?
This employee lost for the specific reason that she waited too long to take action. The supporting evidence in her complaint specifically asserted that the firm terminated her in June 2017. S.J.’s complaint, which she filed in December 2019, made no reference to her experiencing any inappropriate conduct after she was fired.
December 2019, then, was at least six months too late. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination says that you have two years from the time that your claim “accrued” to take action.
There are certain circumstances in which the law may give you more time, but none of them applied to S.J.’s situation. There is something called the “continuing violation doctrine,” which allows you extra time if you were the victim of a series of continuous and related discriminatory acts. If you can prove a continuing violation, your case is not time-barred until two years after the last of that pattern of acts. In S.J.’s case, the acts of discrimination she allegedly endured ended no later than June 2017, meaning that her filing deadline was, at the latest, June 2019.
There is also the “discovery rule,” which says that you may have extra time if you did not discover the acts of discrimination until weeks or months after they occurred. Since the discrimination S.J. allegedly suffered was never a hidden thing, that argument wouldn’t have helped, either.
All of the strong and persuasive facts in the world won’t help you if you haven’t complied with the law’s requirements regarding sexual harassment claims. That includes acting before the filing deadline expires. The skilled New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates are ready and waiting to provide you with knowledgeable and effective advocacy to help you get everything you should from your case. Don’t wait! Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to discuss how we can help you.