Since the Ledbetter decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, issues of the timeliness of employment discrimination claims have come to the forefront. An interesting decision by a CHRO Human Rights Referee recently suggests that complaints that do not specify the timeliness of certain claims may still survive a motion to dismiss.
CHRO Human Rights Referee David S. Knishkowy late last month rejected an employer’s motion to dismiss on timeliness grounds, even though the complaint did not contain sufficient details to determine whether the alleged discrimination practice occurred within the applicable time frame.
In Salvatore Feroleto v. State of Connecticut, Department of Mental Retardation, CHRO No. 0510140 (decided August 27, 2007), the employer, the Connecticut Department of Mental Retardation moved to dismiss a claim that had been certified to a public hearing on the grounds that most of the alleged acts occurred more than 180 days prior to filing of the complaint.
Referee Knishkowy rejected that assertion, even though the complaint itself was vague as to whether certain acts fell within or outside the 180 day period.
In the present case, because of the exceedingly general nature of the allegations, I cannot ascertain when most of the discriminatory acts, discrete or otherwise, occurred. Denial of the motion to dismiss will afford the complainant an opportunity to present evidence, subject to the aforesaid rule, on each of his vaguely worded claims of unequal pay, denied promotions, denied accommodations (for his disability), lack of training and termination.
This decision raises a troubling prospect for employers. According to the CHRO’s own administrative regulations on complaints, Conn. Regs. 46a-54-35a, a Complaint — when filed with the CHRO, "shall contain the following…(3) A plain and concise statement of the facts, including any pertinent dates, constituting the alleged discriminatory practices." Thus, a complaint that does not have such dates, as appears to be the case here, appears to be violating the CHRO’s implementing regulations. Yet according to this decision, the employer is without recourse to move to dismiss the complaint because the Complaint should be allowed an "opportunity to present evidence".
I should note that it is not clear whether the employer raised this particular argument or just challenged the timeliness of the complaint in general. What this decision does make clear, however, is that employers will likely need to engage in discovery and motion practice at the CHRO hearing stage on timeliness grounds, because a motion to dismiss on such grounds is unlikely to succeed even against vague allegations.