My thanks to my colleague, Mick Lavelle, who has drafted the following post on a noteworthy issue decided today by the Connecticut Appellate Court.  For employers with long-standing discrimination claims, it’s worth understanding what the statute of limitations are on such claims.

Most employers know that claims of employment discrimination can be brought under two sets of laws: the federal anti-discrimination statute known as Title VII, and the State of Connecticut’s Fair Employment Practices Act.

Both require an initial discrimination complaint to be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, after which employees have the option of removing the case from the commissions and starting a lawsuit.

But the federal and state laws have different statutes of limitations governing the time when employees must commence a lawsuit.

Under Title VII, employees have 90 days from the date that the EEOC issues a right-to-sue letter, no matter when the complaint was initially filed.

State law also requires that a lawsuit be filed within 90 days after the CHRO issues its equivalent of a right-to-sue letter, known as a release of jurisdiction. But this is also where the state law marches to a different beat. Connecticut’s law, Conn. Gen. Stat 46a-102, has a maximum limitations period of two years from the initial filing of the complaint with the CHRO in which a lawsuit must be initiated.

Earlier today, the Connecticut Appellate Court released Wright v. Teamsters Local 559, which re-emphasized that limitation.  (The case will be officially released next week.) 

In Wright, the plaintiff filed his initial complaint with the CHRO in October, 2004, alleging race discrimination when he was replaced as a union steward, but did not get his release of jurisdiction and file his lawsuit until November, 2006, which was outside the two-year period.

To try to preserve his claim, the plaintiff pointed to an amended complaint he had filed earlier in 2006, alleging age discrimination in addition to the race discrimination claim he had made in his first filing. But the Appellate Court ruled that the statute of limitations applied because all his claims of discrimination derived from the single incident of being replaced as a steward, and they all related back to his initial filing in 2004.

Because the costs of defense and potential damages are far greater in lawsuits than in complaints left with the CHRO for adjudication, employers can at least count down from the date of initial filing to the two-year anniversary, after which they will very likely be immune from suit.

Employers now have the additional comfort of knowing that amendments to the initial complaint will not reset the time period, at least where the amendment derives from the same incident as the initial complaint.