If you have a claim of discrimination against an employer, file it quickly.
As a general rule, the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit is forgiving; the default limitation period is three years. See RCW 4.16.080. However, the deadlines to file a federal discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are far stricter, ranging from 300 days to file most employment discrimination claims against a private employer, to 45 days to initiate contact with an EEO counselor for most employment discrimination claims against a federal government employer. 29 C.F.R. 1614.105(a). Similarly, state discrimination claims filed with the Washington State Human Rights Commission must generally be filed within six months. RCW 49.60.230(2). These deadlines must be met even if you are in the middle of other proceedings to resolve the dispute, such as an employer’s internal grievance procedure. And these claims have to be initiated with a federal or state agency; you cannot sue the discriminatory employer until administrative remedies have been exhausted. Thus, missing these deadlines to initiate proceedings with an agency could mean your claim is forever time-barred, meaning you have lost your chance to bring these claims.
There are exceptions. For example, if you are a victim of ongoing harassment and initiate proceedings within the deadline for the last incident of harassment, all incidents that were part of the ongoing harassment will be investigated, even if they go further back. And violations of the federal Equal Pay Act are handled differently. The deadline is longer, and you can go straight to court to sue the employer.
Nevertheless, it is better to be safe than sorry; if you believe you have been a victim of any sort of employment discrimination, contact an attorney right away.
By Peter Hawkins – Associate Attorney