Sexual Harassment and the Statute of Limitations: Why New York Employees Might Still Have a Claim Even if They Do Not Come Forward Right Away

Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in nearly every type of workplace throughout the country. The media have paid particular attention to sexual harassment in the film industry in recent weeks after numerous allegations of sexual assault and abuse by a prominent Hollywood producer surfaced. Some allegations are quite recent, while others go back decades. Many of those who waited to go public with their allegations may have feared retaliation by the producer or others. New York City sexual harassment and retaliation are actionable as forms of employment discrimination under city, state, and federal laws. Each of these laws imposes a time limit for filing a claim, known as a statute of limitations. Complainants alleging sexual harassment do not have to come forward immediately, but the amount of time the law allows is measured in months, rather than years.

A wide variety of acts could support a claim for sexual harassment. A claim may allege a single incident or a lengthy pattern of incidents. The scenario presented by many of the allegations currently coming out of Hollywood—in which a producer or director demands sex from an actress in exchange for a part in a film, often with a threat to damage her career if she refuses—is almost the archetypal example of sexual harassment. Unwelcome comments or jokes of a sexual nature might constitute sexual harassment if they are severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. Unlike the first example, which might involve a single incident, a hostile work environment claim could involve more incidents than a complainant could easily remember. The time limit for filing is usually based on the most recent incident of harassment.

The purpose behind a statute of limitations is to encourage complainants to assert legal claims as soon as possible so that witnesses’ memories are still fresh and other evidence is still available. Most statutes of limitations begin to run from the date an injury or unlawful act occurs. They may also begin to run on the date that a person could reasonably be expected to have discovered an injury, such as in the case of an injury that is not immediately apparent.

In New York, the statute of limitations for a sexual harassment claim depends on which law a plaintiff wants to cite. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires a complaint to be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a lawsuit. If a plaintiff lives in a state or local jurisdiction that has its own laws addressing sexual harassment, such as New York and New York City, the EEOC’s filing deadline is 300 calendar days from the date of the harassment, or the most recent date for hostile work environment claims. In states without their own sexual harassment laws, the deadline is 180 days. If the EEOC issues a “notice of right to sue,” a lawsuit must be filed within 90 days.

The statutes of limitations under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law are longer than under Title VII. Plaintiffs have one year to file a lawsuit. They are also not required to file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights or the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

Phillips & Associates’ experienced and knowledgeable sexual harassment lawyers advocate for the rights of job applicants, employees, and former employees in New York City. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment and Retaliation: Why Women Might Be Afraid to Complain About New York Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 1, 2017

Unwelcome Touching of a Sexual Nature Constitutes Sexual Harassment in New York, and It Is Also a Crime, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 31, 2017

The Casting Couch Is Not Consensual: How a Coerced Sexual Relationship Constitutes Sexual Harassment Under New York Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 30, 2017

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