Equal employment opportunity laws impose time limits that must be met.
If the prescribed time limits are not met, cases may be dismissed by
government agencies, and the courts. The information presented here describes
some, but not all, of the time limits. Other non-discrimination employment
laws that may be applicable to your situation impose additional time limits.
To obtain more information about time limits and complaint procedures,
contact other sources of information, including government agencies, and
In California and Oregon, which have state fair employment practices ("FEP")
agencies approved by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC), complaints of employment discrimination must usually be
filed in writing with the EEOC within 300 days of the alleged
discrimination (42 USC 2000e-5(e)). In some states that do not have
EEOC-approved state or local government fair employment practices agencies,
a 180-day time limit may apply to filing complaints with the EEOC. Call your
local EEOC office, and the office of your state fair employment practices
agency, to learn the complaint-filing deadlines and procedures. The EEOC and
state fair employment practices agencies usually "dual-file" your discrimination
complaint so that you meet the complaint filing
requirements under the federal and state discrimination laws.
A complaint of employment discrimination usually has to be filed with the
EEOC, and a Notice of Right to Sue issued by the EEOC, before litigation is
commenced in court. This is not true for litigation under the federal Equal
Pay Act which may be filed directly in court within two years of the alleged
discrimination (or three years for a "willful" violation)(29 USC 216(c),
255(a)), and litigation under post-Civil War civil rights statutes like
42 USC Sections 1981 and 1983, which may be filed within the statute of
limitations for personal injury actions in the state where the case is filed.
For example, the time limit for personal injury actions is two years in
California (effective 1-1-03, one year before that), and two years in Oregon.
An employment discrimination lawsuit
may be filed under several laws, and theories of law, and the time limits
and procedural requirements must be met for each law.
If the EEOC declines to take a discrimination complaint, a complainant
may attempt to file the complaint by submitting a signed letter to the EEOC
prescribed time period, stating the name and address of the complainant
and the employer, employment agency, or labor organization; the
approximate number of workers employed by the employer; the date of the
alleged discrimination; the basis of the alleged discrimination (e.g., race,
national origin, sex, age, religion, disability, retaliation); and, a
description of the alleged discriminatory actions (42 USC 2000-e-5(b); 29 CFR 1601.9
and 1601.12). The EEOC may still dismiss the complaint, but it should do so
by issuing a Notice of Right to Sue, which allows the complainant to file
suit in Federal District Court. If the EEOC issues a Notice of Right to Sue
on a complaint, that action usually ends the EEOC's administrative
processing of the complaint, and the complainant has only 90 days to file
the lawsuit in Federal District Court (29 CFR 1601.28(e)).
You may have the option of filing a discrimination complaint with the
state or local
government fair employment practices agency in your area. The time
limits for filing these discrimination complaints vary. Both California and
Oregon have one-year charge-filing periods from the date of the alleged
discrimination. Check with the state and local government agencies in your
area to learn their requirements. State fair employment
practices agencies also issue Notices of Right to Sue in state court.
The time limit for filing those lawsuits is indicated in the notice of
right to sue. For example, in California a discrimination lawsuit
under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act must be filed within
one year from the date of the notice of right to sue. There are appellate
court decisions that "toll" or extend the period to file suit under state
employment discrimination laws for the period of time that
the EEOC was actively processing the administrative discrimination complaint.
Different time limits apply to other legal causes of action. For example,
effective January 1, 2003, in California an action for tortious termination in violation of public
policy is governed by the two-year statute of limitations in CCP Section
335 (a one-year limit probably applies before 1-1-03). A one-year statute of
limitations applies to employment-related
tort actions for libel, slander, and false improsonment (CCP Section 340).
You should consult with an attorney to determine how the time limits apply
to your situation.
Attorney referral services may be provided by government agencies, bar
associations, and other organizations. The EEOC field offices maintain
attorney referral lists that are available to the public. You may obtain the
list by contacting your local EEOC office and asking for the "Attorney
Referral List" for your area. If a complainant is unable to find an
attorney who will file suit within the federal 90-day period, or state law
filing period, (s)he may attempt to file suit in court without an attorney,
and ask the court to appoint an attorney. Some courts may provide limited
assistance to unrepresented complainants. For example, the Office of the
Clerk of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California
will provide a package of forms to assist a complainant to file suit without
an attorney. However, note that it is difficult to pursue litigation without
an attorney, and the court may be unable to appoint an attorney for you.
The court complaint is a very
important document because it states the alleged violations of law, and
identifies the laws and theories of law that the case is brought under.
It is an important decision whether you file suit in federal or
state court, since different court procedures apply, and one forum may
offer advantages over the other. For example, a smaller jury is
usually used in federal court, but a unanimous jury verdict is required.
Many plaintiff's attorneys think that it is advantageous for complainants
to file suit in state court instead of federal court. Since the laws and
procedures are so complex, you should make every effort to find an attorney
to represent you in litigation. You should consult with an attorney to discuss
Civilian employees of the federal government, and applicants for federal employment,
must follow different discrimination complaint filing time limits and
administrative procedures. They must first discuss their discrimination complaints with
"equal employment opportunity counselors" of the employing agency within
45 days of the alleged discrimination before filing an administrative
discrimination complaint with the agency. Note the short 45 day limit for
commencing the eeo counseling. The eeo counselors should inform the
employees of additional procedural time limits that they must meet. Contact
the eeo office of your agency for additional information.
The time limits to file discrimination complaints may be extended in some
circumstances, such as using the "continuing violation" theory that says
related but untimely discriminatory events may be may be considered. If you
have questions about the timeliness of a discrimination complaint, you
should seek legal advice from an attorney.