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New York Court Discusses Equitable Tolling of Deadline for Discrimination Claims

April 14, 2020

Although sexual orientation is not explicitly listed as a class protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), people who suffer discrimination in the workplace due to their sexual orientation can pursue claims against their employers for violating Title VII. As with any discrimination claim, however, it is essential for a plaintiff seeking damages for discrimination based on sexual orientation to comply with statutory deadlines, otherwise he or she may run the risk of waiving the right to recover damages. In a recent case, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York discussed when a failure to file an employment discrimination lawsuit within the proscribed time period may be excused. If you suffered discrimination at work due to your sexual orientation, it is advisable to contact a seasoned New York employment discrimination attorney to discuss your case.

Factual History

It is alleged that the plaintiff, who self-identifies as a gay man, worked for the defendant as a social worker. He alleged that he was subject to discrimination and retaliation and was ultimately terminated due to his sexual orientation. As such, he filed discrimination charges with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after which he received a right to sue letter, which stated he had 90 days to file a lawsuit. After receipt of the letter, he attempted to find an attorney for a few weeks but did not secure representation. He then began suffering anxiety and depression over his inability to retain an attorney, which rendered him unable to focus on the task.

It is reported that prior to the end of the 90-day period, the defendant was stabbed by his roommate. He was hospitalized for two weeks after the stabbing, and the 90-day period ran during his hospitalization. He ultimately engaged an attorney and filed his lawsuit 21 days after the 90-day period ran. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to F.R.C.P.12(b)(6), arguing that the plaintiff’s complaint was untimely.

Equitable Tolling of Filing Deadline

Employment discrimination lawsuits alleging violations of Title VII must be brought within 90 days of a plaintiff’s receipt of a right to sue letter. The 90-day requirement, which is similar to a statute of limitations, is typically strictly enforced, and courts have stated that it should not be extended, even for a day. Thus, a plaintiff’s failure to file a lawsuit within the time period set forth under Title VII will usually preclude the plaintiff from pursuing the claim in federal court and can be grounds for dismissal pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The 90-day period can be equitably tolled, however, when a party demonstrates he or she acted with reasonable diligence during the 90-day period, and that extraordinary circumstances existed so as to justify equitable tolling. In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated both that he diligently sought counsel during the 90-day period, and that extraordinary circumstances, namely his hospitalization following his stabbing, existed so as to warrant tolling. As such, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Speak With a Trusted Employment Attorney

If you suffered discrimination in the workplace due to your sexual orientation, it is wise to speak with a trusted New York attorney regarding your right to pursue damages. The knowledgeable attorneys of Gerstman Schwartz LLP can advise you of your potential claims and develop effective arguments in favor of your recovery of compensation. We can be reached at our Manhattan office at (212) 227-7070 or at our Garden City office at (516) 880-8170 or via our form online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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