A decision on a California sexual harassment statute of limitations case is expected to be released sometime in the next few months, after the state supreme court heard oral arguments last month. The case involves a Los Angeles California trucking and distribution center, which was successful in winning a summary judgment against two former employees alleging sexual harassment on the basis the statute of limitations for the claim had expired. The plaintiffs are asking the California Supreme Court to reverse.
According to court records, the complaint was filed in the fall of 2017, both plaintiffs alleging the trucking company denied them promotions due to racial discrimination and further that they’d both been victims of sexual harassment.
One of the plaintiffs had been hired at the firm by a staffing agency in the late 1990s. She alleged she was dating an executive VP of the firm, starting in 2014, and this turned into a quid pro quo sexual harassment case. When the VP wanted to advance the relationship, she ended it. After that, she said her her promotions at the firm were blocked, though she continued to work at the staffing agency through 2018. (It should be noted the trucking company was the staffing agency’s only client, so the staffing agency was ultimately dismissed as a defendant after the court found that the trucking company was the one with sole decision-making authority over the staffing agency’s employees.)
The case was dismissed in 2018 after the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled the statute of limitations had passed on the case, something affirmed by the appellate court. Now, the California Supreme Court is being asked to consider whether those rulings were proper.
At issue is the fact that one of the plaintiffs filed her California sexual harassment complaint against the company with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in April 2018, which meant the one-year clock on such claims had begun in April 2017. However, part of the claim involved the argument that a handful of less-qualified workers were promoted over her. But the company’s argument was that any promotions to which plaintiff would be referring occurred prior to April 2017. The company’s VP of operations provided a timeline indicating all promotions occurred before that month, while one was offered in March but didn’t go into effect until May. The court allowed this testimony (despite objections of hearsay), finding the acceptance of the promotion prior to April 2017 meant the statute of limitations had passed. Plaintiff argues that because the promotion didn’t take effect until May of that month, that’s when the clock should have started ticking.
Relevant state law indicates that no complaint can be filed after the expiration of one year from the date upon which the unlawful practice or refusal to cooperate occurred. The key question for the California Supreme Court will be, “What does ‘occurred’ mean in this case?”
The state high court granted a petition for review late last summer, and has only just now heard oral arguments. This could have an impact on future California sexual harassment cases, but regardless, it underscores the fact that if you have been a victim of sexual harassment, it’s imperative reach out to an experienced Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer as soon as possible. There may be filing and notice deadlines that aren’t blatantly obvious, but that could prove critical to winning your case.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Ducksworth v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services, et al., April 7, 2020, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Eight