On Monday, the California Supreme Court held that when an employee claimed she was denied a promotion for turning down sexual advances, the statute of limitations began to run when she knew or reasonably should have known that the promotion was denied, not when the promotion was given to someone else.
Plaintiff Pamela Pollock alleged that her employer passed her over for a promotion because she refused to have sex with an executive vice president. The promotion went to another employee, who received and accepted the offer in March 2017, with the promotion taking effect in May 2017. In April 2018, Ms. Pollock filed a claim with the Department of Fair Employment & Housing ("DFEH"), the agency that enforces California's discrimination laws ("Fair Employment and Housing Act," or "FEHA"). At the time, an employee seeking relief under FEHA had one year from the date when the unlawful practice “occurred” to file a claim with the DFEH (the Legislature has since extended that time-period to three years). For Ms. Pollock, this meant that if the failure to promote her had “occurred” in May 2017, as she argued, her claim was timely, but if it occurred in March 2017, as the employer argued, then the claim was time-barred. The state trial and appeals courts held that the claim was time-barred, concluding that the failure to promote “occurred” in March 2017 when the promotion was offered to and accepted by another employee.
The California Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts’ and the parties’ framing of the issue. The Court held that the statute of limitations begins to run when an employee knows or reasonably should know of the employer’s refusal to promote the employee. The Court noted that its holding supports the purpose of FEHA, “to promote the resolution of potentially meritorious claims on the merits,” and that this approach “protect[s] defendants from the necessity of defending stale claims and require[s] plaintiffs to pursue their claims diligently.”
Because the record contained no evidence about the timing of Ms. Pollock’s knowledge of the promotion, the Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. The decision, Pollock v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services, Inc., No. S262699 (July 26, 2021), is available here.
Posted by Ally Girouard
William Jhaveri-Weeks is the founder of The Jhaveri-Weeks Firm, a San Francisco-based civil litigation practice for individuals and organizations.