Sexual harassment is a civil claim that has risen to special prominence in the wake of the 2017 #MeToo movement. Although you can obtain substantial money damages from a sexual harassment claim, your claim will die if you wait until the statute of limitations expires to file a lawsuit. Every state applies its own statute of limitations, including New Jersey
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD)
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits two different types of sexual harassment:
- “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment, in which the perpetrator conditions job benefits on the victim’s response to sexual advances; and
- “Hostile work environment” sexual harassment, in which the victim endures an abusive work environment due to their gender.
New Jersey’s LAD largely mirrors federal law in its prohibitions against sexual harassment.
What the Statute of Limitations Does
The statute of limitations on sexual harassment is designed to prevent people from litigating claims that depend on stale evidence. Forgetful witnesses and deteriorating physical evidence give a court little basis for deciding the merits of a sexual harassment claim. Because of this, the statute of limitations bars any lawsuit that is filed after the expiration of the statutory period. The court will simply refuse to hear such a case.
Effect on Settlement
After the statute of limitations period has passed, the victim of sexual harassment has no recourse in the court system. Essentially, by waiting too long to file their case the victim has waived the right to have their case heard in court. And because the defendant knows that the plaintiff can no longer sue, they have no motivation to negotiate a settlement. Although a defendant can still agree to pay a settlement, this rarely happens when the threat of a lawsuit is removed from the equation.
The Federal Statute of Limitations
The federal statute of limitations on sexual harassment is 180 days under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This 180-day period begins on the date of the latest incident of sexual harassment. In state courts, however, this 180-day sexual harassment statute of limitations functions as a minimum, not a maximum. Contrary state law can extend this period, but it cannot shorten it.
The New Jersey Sexual Harassment Statute of Limitations
New Jersey has enacted its own sexual harassment legislation that generously extends the EEOC deadline. In New Jersey, you have until two years after the date of your sexual harassment to file a claim in a New Jersey state court. New Jersey characterizes sexual harassment claims as “sex discrimination claims” under LAD.
The “Continuing Violations” Theory
When calculating the statute of limitations deadline, you need to know when the statute of limitations clock begins ticking. This could be confusing when you are deadline with a pattern of abuse that extends over months or even years.
Under New Jersey’s “continuing violations” theory, the statute of limitations clock doesn’t begin ticking until the last act of sexual harassment occurs, even if it happens the day the lawsuit is filed. If the pattern of harassment extended from January 6, 2015, until March 27, 2020, for example, the statute of limitations clock would not begin running until March 27, 2020. The victim would then have two years from that date — or until March 27, 2022 — to file a lawsuit.
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