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Monday, August 20, 2018

Statute of Limitations: Hostile Work Environment & The Morgan Analysis

by Gregory Williams, Esq. | Under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), how is the statute of limitations calculated for hostile work environment claims? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).


WASHINGTON LAW AGAINST DISCRIMINATION

Under WLAD, it is an unfair practice, with very few exceptions, for an employer to refuse to hire any person, to discharge or bar any person from employment, or to discriminate against any person in compensation or in other terms and conditions of employment because of age (40+); sex (including pregnancy); marital statussexual orientation (including gender identity); race; color; creednational originhonorably discharged veteran or military statusHIV/AIDS and hepatitis C status; the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability; and state employee or health care whistleblower status. It is also an unfair practice for an employer to retaliate against an employee because the employee complained about job discrimination or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.


STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS: THE MORGAN ANALYSIS

A statute of limitations is a law that bars claims after a specified period; a statute establishing a time limit for suing in a civil case. Black's Law Dictionary 1450-51 (8th ed.2004). Typically, "[d]iscrimination claims must be brought within three years under the general three-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions." Antonius v. King County, 153 Wn.2d 256, 261-62, 103 P.3d (2004) (citing RCW 4.16.080(2)). However, the statute of limitations for a hostile work environment claim is calculated using the Morgan Analysis, because the objectionable practice does not necessarily occur on a particular day.

Under the Morgan Analysis:
[W]here a discrete act of discrimination is alleged, the limitations period runs from the act. Antonius, 153 Wash.2d at 264, 103 P.3d 729. But for a hostile work environment claim, the objectionable practice does not occur on a particular day. Id. Thus, conduct throughout the time the acts occurred could be considered if the plaintiff presented evidence that one or more acts took place within three years of when the claim was filed. Id. Accordingly, " [u]nder Morgan, a ‘ court's task is to determine whether the acts about which an employee complains are part of the same actionable hostile work environment practice, and if so, whether any act falls within the statutory time period.’ " Id. at 271, 103 P.3d 729 (quoting Morgan, 536 U.S. at 120, 122 S.Ct. 2061). " The acts must have some relationship to each other to constitute part of the same hostile work environment claim." Id. If no relationship exists, " or if ‘ for some other reason, such as certain intervening action by the employer’ the act is ‘ no longer part of the same hostile environment claim, then the employee cannot recover for the previous acts' as part of one hostile work environment claim." Id. (quoting Morgan, 536 U.S. at 118, 122 S.Ct. 2061).
Cox v. Oasis Physical Therapy, PLLC, 153 Wn.App. 176, 195-96, 222 P.3d 119, (Div. 3 2009) (hyperlinks added).


CONCLUSION

The statute of limitations for a hostile work environment claim under WLAD is typically three years. However, when the court addresses an actionable hostile work environment practice, it may consider acts occurring outside of the three-year statute of limitations period if the plaintiff shows that one or more acts that are part of that same actionable hostile work environment practice happened within three years of when the underlying claim was filed.


LEARN MORE

If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Employment Discrimination Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group, PS; please see our DISCLAIMER.

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