Time May be Up on Claims of Sexual Harassment Filed Too Late

By Theresa L. Nelson, Shareholder

In the past few months, we have seen allegations or accusations of sexual harassment being reported in the media on practically a daily basis. And, campaigns and posts on social media, including the #metoo and #TimesUp movements, have revealed countless more allegations. While there is no time limit on someone’s right to free speech, there is a time limit to take an accusation of sexual harassment out of social media or the press and into a courtroom.

Every legal claim or cause of action is subject to a time limit to pursue the claim. This time limit is called the statute of limitations and it acts as a mechanism to effectively cut off any claim that isn’t filed within the specified period of time. Because many allegations now coming to light are based on events that occurred long ago, and outside of the applicable statute of limitations, many allegations may go no further than a story in the press or a post on social media.

Typically, a claim for sexual harassment can be pursued under federal law, namely, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a state statute or a state’s common law (if available). Depending on the basis the claimant/plaintiff choses to pursue their claim, each of these bases has its own unique statute of limitation periods. Any failure to meet any of the required deadlines provided by a particular statute or state law could result in dismissal of the claim.

Claims for sexual harassment pursued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act must be filed in a court within 90 days after receiving a Right to Sue Notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In order to obtain a Right to Sue Notice, the individual must file a charge with the EEOC within 300 days of when the events giving rise to the claim occurred. If an individual attempts to skip this step and pursue a claim for sexual harassment under Title VII without filing a charge with the EEOC in the required time frame and obtaining a Right to Sue Letter, the claim will be dismissed.

Ohio and Kentucky also have state statutes someone may use to pursue a claim for sexual harassment; Ohio Revised Code 4112.02, and Kentucky Revised Statute 344, respectively. If someone pursues a claim for sexual harassment solely through these state statutes, and not under Title VII, they can file a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) or the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR) or file a complaint directly in their respective state’s courts. Filing a complaint with the OCRC or the KCHR is not a mandatory requirement to file a complaint under state law in court. However, if an individual does file a complaint with the OCRC or the KCHR, the complaint must be filed within 180 days of when the alleged incident occurred.

If an individual decides to skip filing with the OCRC and the KCHR, they still have to file their state law complaint within particular time periods. Specifically, a complaint for sexual harassment under Ohio Revised Code 41102.02 must be filed in a court in Ohio within 6 years. And, a complaint under Kentucky’s Civil Rights statute (KRS 344) must be filed in a Kentucky court within 5 years.  With very few exceptions, the limitation periods for sexual harassment claims begin to run on the date the alleged harassment occurred.

If your company or you have been sued or received a charge from any government agency for sexual harassment, or if you feel you have a claim for sexual harassment, you should consult an attorney to understand your rights.