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California Statute of Limitations for Employment Claims

by | Mar 24, 2023 | Firm News

Statue of Lady Justice holding scalesCalifornia employment law statute of limitations varies depending on your claim. The statute of limitations refers to how long after an incident you have to file a lawsuit.

At Shimoda & Rodriguez Law, PC, we represent clients with claims spanning wage and hour, discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation, and whistleblower.

In California, claims involving discrimination, harassment, and retaliation fall under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). This law protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on protected categories, such as race, disability, gender, gender identity, age, military and veteran status, etc.

There are additional steps involved, but when filing a discrimination claim, the plaintiff has three years to obtain what’s referred to as a Right to Sue letter from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and an additional year to file a civil lawsuit. Prior to 2020, a plaintiff only had one year to obtain a Right to Sue letter. You will need to speak to an attorney regarding the correct statute to obtain a Right to Sue letter depending on when your claim arose.

Generally, wrongful termination claims outside of discrimination, such as a claim based on public policy, have a statute of limitations of two years. These claims typically involve the violation of an implied contract, retaliation for filing a worker’s compensation claim, or reporting a work injury, among other instances.

Wrongful termination as a result of discrimination

Before California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 9 (AB 9) into law in 2019, wronged employees had one year to file a discrimination claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the state agency charged with enforcing California’s civil rights laws. AB 9 went into effect on January 1, 2020.

When filing with DFEH, an employee can either file an online complaint requesting an immediate “right-to-sue” letter to litigate the employer in civil court or fill out an online form requesting the DFEH conduct its own investigation into the employer’s alleged wrongdoing.

By extending the FEHA statute of limitations, a plaintiff can file a lawsuit four years after the comment, conduct, or action an employee or former employee alleges was harassing or discriminatory.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed increasing the statute of limitations the year before Newsom took office.

Before Filing A Lawsuit for Employment Discrimination

When you choose Shimoda & Rodriguez Law, PC to file your lawsuit for employment discrimination, you understand that:

  • You’re electing not to exercise your option to have DFEH investigate your complaint.
  • You understand that an employment law attorney should file the lawsuit on your behalf.
  • You understand that you have one year from the date of your Right to Sue notice to file a lawsuit.
  • You understand that the DFEH will not file your complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you wish to obtain a federal Right to Sue letter, you must file it separately with EEOC.

What You’ll Need to Obtain a Right-To-Sue Letter

When contacting both Shimoda & Rodriguez Law, PC and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, you’ll need:

  • Contact information and a mailing address for the respondent, e.g., the person or employer that you’re filing against
  • Contact information and a mailing address for any additional respondents, e.g., anyone else you wish to file against
  • Contact information and a mailing address for the “Agent for Service.” This is the person who should be notified that you filed a complaint and obtained a Right to Sue notice. If you do not know the name of the person who should receive a copy of the complaint, you may provide contact information and a mailing address for the human resources manager. If you do not know the name of the human resources manager, provide contact information for the owner or president of the company.

How long does a DFEH investigation take?

If you opt for the DFEH to investigate your case, it may take a year or longer.

For the DFEH investigation process, you will need:

  • Specific facts and records about the incident(s), including the name and contact information of the person or entity who committed the offense
  • Copies of any documents or other evidence related to your complaint
  • The names and contact information of any witnesses

If the agency determines there may have been a violation of civil rights laws upon review of your claim, the DFEH will attempt to resolve complaints through its dispute resolution services.

If the DFEH can’t resolve the complaint through mediation, then the agency will file a lawsuit.

Possible outcomes of a DFEH investigation include:

  • Recovery of out-of-pocket losses
  • An injunction prohibiting the unlawful practice
  • Access to housing or a job opportunity
  • Policy changes
  • Training
  • Reasonable accommodation(s)
  • Damages for emotional distress
  • Civil penalties and punitive damages

Are There Exceptions to the California Employment Law Statute of Limitations?

If you fail to contact an employment law expert like those here at Shimoda & Rodriguez Law before your statute of limitations expires, then you will not be able to pursue legal action.

How We Approach Employment Law Claims

  1. Initial consultation: Our attorneys will speak with you and gather the specifics about your case.
  2. Review & Plan: Once we have the specifics and the documentation of your employment law claim, our team can build a legal strategy to achieve your best outcome.
  3. Representation & Resolution: While we will explore whether an amicable resolution with your employer or previous employer is possible, there are times when the matter must go to court. In this instance, our firm will aggressively represent you and pursue an outcome in your best interest.