California Legislature Extends Statute of Limitations for Fair Employment and Housing Act Claims to Three Years

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On October 10, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 9 into law, extending the statute of limitations for claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), California's comprehensive employment anti-discrimination, anti-retaliation, and anti-harassment law. While FEHA claims have long been subject to a one-year statute of limitations, AB 9 triples the limitations period to three years. 

Employees claiming violation of FEHA now have three years from the date of the allegedly unlawful employment action to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH"). Employees then have another year after filing their DFEH complaint to bring a civil lawsuit. That means four full years can pass before a discrimination, retaliation, or harassment suit is filed.

This bill is another product of the "#MeToo" movement. According to the author of AB 9, the bill is intended to ensure that victims of discrimination and harassment, particularly sexual harassment, have sufficient time to process what happened to them, learn about their rights, and become comfortable speaking publicly.

While the bill does not revive claims that have already expired, claims that have accrued but not yet expired will soon benefit from the extended limitations period.

WHAT EMPLOYERS SHOULD KNOW

Employers need to carefully review their document and information retention practices, such as email archiving procedures, to ensure that vital information is preserved in the event a suit is filed. Four years is a long time. Memories fade, employees transition to new jobs and information is easily lost. Documenting and preserving investigation files, interview notes, emails, recordings, policies, handbooks, agreements, etc., can make or break a defense against a lawsuit down the line.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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