To sue for sexual harassment in California, you must bring your claim to the Department of Fair Employment & Housing or get your “right to sue” letter within one year of the alleged harassment. Your lawyer will obtain this for you. But what if the harassment regularly took place over the last couple years? What if some of the sexual harassment took place over the last 10 or 15 years? Are the instances of harassment that took place over a year ago barred from being brought in court ? Will your attorney have bad news for you? The answer is “no”…well…most of the time it’s “no.”
In 2001, the Supreme Court of California ruled on the scope of the “continuing violation doctrine” in Richards v. CH2M Hill, Inc.. The doctrine “allows liability for unlawful employer conduct occurring outside the statute of limitation if it is sufficiently connected to unlawful conduct within the limitations period.” To determine this connection, the Supreme Court set up a three part test: if (1) the actions are sufficiently similar in kind; (2) they occur with sufficient frequency; and (3) they have not acquired a degree of permanence so that employees are on notice that further efforts at informal conciliation with the employer to obtain accommodation or end harassment would be futile.
If this test is met, the statute of limitations begins to run either when the course of sexual harassment has ended (such as when the employer fires the harasser) or when the employee is on notice that further efforts to end the unlawful conduct will be in vain.