What are the deadlines for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit?

A statute of limitations is the period in which a particular case must be filed. Employment law cases are unique because they encompass a myriad of claims.  For example, an employee claiming wrongful termination can also have claims for defamation, wage and hour, and/or breach of contract.  All of these claims have their own unique deadlines to meet.

Adding to the complexity is that many employment related claims require employees to first exhaust particular administrative remedies that impose additional deadlines. Exhaustion of administrative remedies is a mandatory prerequisite that must be complied with in order to obtain authorization to file a civil action in court.  Failure to comply with administrative obstacles and deadlines may result in forfeiture of viable claims.  Even if you are not interested in taking your case all the way to court, an employer has little to no incentive to negotiate a settlement relating to forfeited claims.

The following is a general overview of some of the deadlines applicable to employment related matters in California:

Discrimination/Harassment/Termination Under California Law: To file a lawsuit under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a claimant must first exhaust his or her administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within one year after the date of the last alleged unlawful act, i.e., termination.  A claimant must then request a “Right-to-Sue” letter from the DFEH.  The claimant then has one year from the date of the “Right-to-Sue” letter to file a lawsuit under FEHA.  Thus, claimants with discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or wrongful termination claims arising under California law, must comply with two deadlines. (Note: additional requirements apply to claims against a public entity.)

Discrimination/Harassment/Termination Under Federal Law: Although California law generally provides more generous rights and remedies to California employees, some employment related claims fall under federal laws.  In California, to obtain relief under federal law, a claimant must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within three hundred (300) days after the date of the last alleged unlawful act, i.e., termination.  Thereafter, a claimant must request a “Right-to-Sue” letter from the EEOC.  The claimant then has only ninety (90) days from the date of the “Right-to-Sue” letter to file a lawsuit in federal court.

Defamation:  A lawsuit must be filed within one year from when it was determined that the defamatory statements were made. There are no administrative exhaustion requirements applicable to defamation claims.

Unpaid Overtime, Minimum Wage, Meal & Rest Breaks:  Generally, claims must be filed with the California Labor Commissioner or in court within three years of when the wages were earned.  This means, if the employee has worked more than three (3) years, the employee may lose a portion of the claims he or she could have brought earlier.

As if all of these requirements were not difficult enough, additional requirements apply to the substance and content of the documents filed.  Failure to properly state all claims and identify parties may likewise result in forfeiture of viable claims.  To avoid such an unjust result, we strongly urge individuals who are considering pursuing legal action against their employer to engage a qualified and experienced employment law attorney.

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