High Court Liberalizes Suit Time Limits

June 11, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Normal time limits on when people can sue for long-term discrimination or harassment may still not preclude a lawsuit if the treatment extends over a period of months or years, the US Supreme Court ruled.

In a 5-4 vote, justices allowed more leeway for workers, who claim unfair treatment under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, according to an Associated Press news report.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the majority opinion, said potential plaintiffs could still sue if one of the alleged rights violations took place within the normal 180- or 300-day time limits. 

Otherwise, events at the start of the pattern being complained about would be excluded from court review, leaving only the most recent incidents, Thomas said.

Single Claim

“Given that the incidents comprising a hostile work environment are part of one unlawful employment practice, the employer may be liable for all acts that are part of this single claim,” Thomas wrote for himself and the four justices in the court’s moderate-to-liberal wing.

However, the justices were quick to clarify that the more liberal limits apply only to workers who claim the discriminatory conduct has taken place over a long period of time including some incidents that are after the time limits expire. Those complaining about a single incident must follow the normal time rules, the court said.

The ruling is a partial victory for Abner Morgan, a black former electrical worker for Amtrak. Morgan claimed he suffered racial discrimination during nearly the entire five years he worked for Amtrak, ending with his firing in 1995.

The case is National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 00-1614.