When—Exactly—Does an Adverse Employment Action Occur? The Utah Supreme Court Weighs In

by Snell & Wilmer
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Can one employee be considered terminated from the same position twice? Though the concept seems to give plaintiffs two bites at the apple for statute of limitations, the Utah Supreme Court says, in certain circumstances, yes.

In Zimmerman v. University of Utah, the Utah Supreme Court answered a certified question regarding when the clock starts for filing a notice of claim under the Utah Protection of Public Employees Act (“UPPEA”). The UPPEA requires public employees suffering an adverse employment action to file a notice of claim within 180 days of the adverse action. The plaintiff in this case was told that her contract would not be renewed, and when the time came for renewal, her contract was in fact not renewed—i.e., she was terminated. She filed a notice of claim within 180 days of her termination, but well after 180 days of when she was told her contract would not be renewed.

The Utah Supreme Court, then, answered whether the adverse employment action occurred when the employer told the employee that her contract would not be renewed, or when the actual termination resulted from the non-renewal. The Court held that both actions can be actionable under the UPPEA, depending on what damages the plaintiff alleges and what caused those damages. If the damages alleged flow from the employer telling the employee that the contract will not be renewed, then the employee must file a notice of claim within 180 days of the notice of non-renewal. But if the damages alleged are caused by the actual termination, then the notice of claim must be filed within 180 days of the actual termination. And, presumably, if the plaintiff seeks damages flowing from both employer actions, then the plaintiff must file a notice of claim within 180 days of the earlier action to claim those damages. The plaintiff’s damages will be limited to only that action for which a notice of claim was filed timely.

Employers, then, may start considering both the day the employee learns of a termination as well as the day the employee is actually terminated as a basis for limiting claims. For a more in-depth analysis, you can access the Utah Supreme Court’s opinion by clicking here.

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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