If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, you might be hesitant to raise the issue at work or pursue a legal claim. Speaking up against your harasser can be intimidating and, even though retaliation is illegal, you might have legitimate concerns about facing reprisals from your employer. There are very good reasons for speaking up, though, not the least of which is to put an end to illegal harassment. From a legal standpoint, you should also be aware that you only have a certain amount of time to raise your sexual harassment claim. If you wait too long, it may be too late to file a legal claim.
In this posting, we’ll talk about the time limits, or “Statutes of Limitations,” for filing sexual harassment claims at the federal level as well as in New York State and New York City. We’ll also talk about what happens if you miss those deadlines. If you’d like to understand more about how the statute of limitations applies to a claim you’re considering, please contact Eisenberg & Baum.
Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination and is prohibited under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the New York State Human Rights Law. New York City has also adopted its own law prohibiting sexual harassment. Each of these laws is enforced by a designated government agency: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for the federal law, the New York State Division of Human Rights for New York state law, and the New York City Commission on Human Rights for New York City’s law. A victim of sexual harassment has the option of filing an administrative claim with one of these agencies, depending on where the harassment occurred, but must be aware of time limits in place with each agency.
Sexual harassment victims can pursue a Title VII claim by filing a “Charge of Discrimination” with the EEOC. Where, as in New York, there is a state or local administrative agency that enforces a similar state or local law, sexual harassment charges must generally be filed with the EEOC within 300 calendar days of the date the harassment occurred. The 300 days is calculated including weekends and holidays, though the final day of the time period is pushed to the closest business day if it would otherwise fall on a weekend or holiday. The EEOC also notes that they generally will not extend this deadline while you attempt to resolve your complaint through your employer’s internal grievance process. So, even if your employer is already investigating your complaint, it is still very important that you reach out to an attorney to consider your potential EEOC charge because the statute of limitations may already be running.
The New York State Division of Human Rights and New York City Commission on Human Rights have slightly longer deadlines for submitting sexual harassment claims under the laws they help enforce. You have a full year from the date of the event of harassment to file a complaint with either of these agencies.
Victims of sexual harassment can also pursue their claims in federal or state court, where another set of deadlines applies depending on whether you’re pursuing your claim under federal or state law.
In order to bring a lawsuit for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you must first file a charge with the EEOC. Assuming you met the deadline requirement for filing an EEOC charge we discussed above, the EEOC will investigate your claim, attempt to mediate a resolution in some instances, and typically issue you a “Notice of Right to Sue” after completing its process. If you want to go forward with a lawsuit at that point, you must file it within 90 days of receiving the Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC.
Unlike a federal claim, you do not have to first file a complaint with a state or local enforcement agency before filing a lawsuit based on New York law. The statute of limitations for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit under New York State law and New York City law is the same: you have three years from the date of the harassment. This longer window of time can be a benefit to those victims who may have missed the deadline for filing a harassment complaint with one of the administrative enforcement agencies.
Your deadline for filing an administrative complaint or a lawsuit is typically calculated from the date the sexual harassment occurred. Often times, though, sexual harassment is a recurring problem that occurs over a period of time. In those cases, your deadline for filing may be calculated from the last instance of harassment but to be safe, we calendar the deadline from the date of the first instance of harassment.
Whatever venue you choose, missing your filing deadline could result in your losing the ability to recover damages for your sexual harassment claim. As a victim of sexual harassment in New York, you have several options for pursuing your claim, so even if you have missed one deadline for filing a claim, it’s possible you still have the ability to pursue your claim with another agency or in court. You may also have other legal claims you can pursue, which may be subject to different statutes of limitations.
Given the relatively short deadlines victims of sexual harassment can have in filing claims (particularly with administrative enforcement agencies), the complexity of calculating those deadlines and the various venues in which victims can pursue their claims, we recommend sexual harassment victims contact an attorney as soon as possible after being harassed to understand their legal options and make a fully informed decision on how they should pursue their claim. Eisenberg & Baum’s attorneys have decades of experience handling sexual harassment cases in New York and are ready to help you with your claim. We offer free initial consultations for sexual harassment claims and bill on a contingent fee basis, so you won’t have to pay us unless we win or settle your case.