Don’t be S.O.L.(about statutes of limitation in employment cases)

by George Barron

A potential client called me this week and described what seemed to be a case of unlawful discrimination at work – violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).  I’ll call him “Sol” – not his real name.

Long story short, Sol was passed over for a promotion, and he had good reason to believe that it was because of his disability. His supervisors seemed to think that a person with a disability like Sol’s couldn’t handle the new job, and they didn’t even want to give him a chance to prove himself.

Sol told me that the non-promotion happened more than a year ago. At the time, Sol filed a grievance with his union. The union said they would take care of things. Sol even called a private attorney – one of those attorneys who does “a little bit of everything” and will take any type of case under the sun – and the attorney told him to “wait and see” what happened with the union grievance.

Wrong answer.

Most of the laws that protect workers from unlawful discrimination, including the ADA and the PHRA, require an employee to act very quickly – sometimes in as little as 180 days from the violation. Filing a union grievance does not protect your rights under other employment discrimination laws.  In a disability discrimination case like Sol’s, you have to file with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) to protect your rights under Pennsylvania law, and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to protect your rights under federal law. The PRHC deadline is 180 days for the act. The EEOC deadline is (usually) 300 days from the act.  Sol was out of time and out of luck on both.

The union should have given Sol this information. The lawyer certainly should have given Sol this information. But they didn’t, and now it’s too late. The union grievance is still going on, and I hope that Sol wins because he has already lost his other legal claims by waiting too long.

The moral of the story: if you think that your employer is breaking the law, talk to your union – then call an employment lawyer – not the guy that did your house closing or your mom’s will – an employment lawyer – and call NOW.  Don’t be S.O.L.

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