New California Law Extends Time for Filing State Employment Discrimination Complaints
If you are the victim of workplace discrimination, you need to be aware that the clock is always ticking in terms of your ability to take legal action. While federal and state laws are in place to address instances of illegal discrimination, these laws come with what are known as “statutes of limitations.” In basic terms, this is the maximum time that can pass between when an illegal act occurs and when formal legal action may be taken.
There is an additional complication with respect to allegations of employment discrimination. Typically, employees need to file an initial complaint, known as a “charge,” with either the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). These agencies have the initial right to investigate and take legal action against an employer. If the agency declines to act, it will then issue a “right-to-sue” letter, permitting the affected employee to take direct action against the employer in court.
Legislature Sought to Assist “Low-Wage Workers” Who Are Unable to Bring Immediate Allegations
Until recently, the statute of limitations for an employee to bring a charge under California law was just one year from the date of the alleged violation. In other words, if your employer committed an act of illegal employment discrimination on January 1, 2018, you had to file a charge with the DFEH no later than January 1, 2019. After that time, neither you nor the state could take any formal legal action against the employer.
But in 2019, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 9, which extends the deadline for filing complaints from 1 to 3 years. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 9 into law on October 10, 2019, and it formally took effect on January 1, 2020. This means that all employment discrimination claims that were still pending or arise after January 1 are subject to the new three-year statute of limitations period. So if an act of illegal discrimination takes place on January 1, 2020, the victim has until January 1, 2023, to file a charge with the DFEH.
According to a legislative analysis prepared for the California Senate’s Rules Committee, there were a number of policy considerations supporting the two-year increase in the statute of limitations. The analysis noted that many workers who are the victims of discrimination “must take their livelihood into account when deciding whether and when to file formal legal allegations against their employer.” Indeed, many employees must weigh the desire to take legal action against “financial considerations,” which the analysis noted are “especially relevant to low-wage workers.”
Federal Deadlines Remain Unchanged
One thing to note: AB 9 only extends the deadline for filing employment discrimination claims under state law. There has been no change to the statute of limitations for making a federal charge with the EEOC. Federal law normally requires an employee bring a charge within 180 days of the alleged violation, or 300 days if a state agency prohibits the same form of discrimination.
If you have additional questions about AB 9 or any other law governing workplace discrimination complaints, you should contact a qualified California employment law attorney right away.