Often, the facts that give rise to employment discrimination, hostile work environment, or constructive discharge claims will give rise to state law claims such as assault, battery, or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
This is what happened in Castagna v. Luceno and Majestic Kitchens. There, plaintiff alleged that her boss, Bill Luceno, engaged in physically abusive conduct, such as screaming, swearing, and on one occasion (which prompted her resignation) “shoving” a computer monitor at her.
Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge, alleging sex-based discrimination. After receiving a right-to-sue letter, she sued in federal court, alleging violations of the employment laws, as well as state tort causes of action (assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress).
While her discrimination claims were timely, her state tort claims (which have a one-year statute of limitations) were not. This is because she filed her lawsuit more than one year after her last date of employment.
On that basis, defendants argued that her state claims were time-barred. Plaintiff countered, alleging that the limitations period for her state tort claims were “tolled” – that is, stopped – while the EEOC was considering her charge.
In a recent opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (addressing an issue of first impression) affirmed the district court’s dismissal of her state tort claims as time-barred. Specifically, it held “as a matter of federal law that filing an EEOC charge does not toll the limitations period for state-law tort claims, even if those claims arise out of the same factual circumstances as the discrimination alleged in the EEOC charge.” (In a summary order issued the same day, the Second Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find for plaintiff on her sex-based hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims.)
The Second Circuit reasoned that Congress did not intend for the EEOC proceedings “to delay independent avenues of redress,” and that a plaintiff may ask a court to stay the proceedings in the initial action until the EEOC has completed its “administrative efforts”. Here, while plaintiff “always had an unfettered right to pursue her tort claims” and to bring her claims within the statute of limitations, “[s]he simply failed to do so.”
In addition, the legislative history of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the federal law under which plaintiff pursued her discrimination claims – “manifests a congressional intent to allow an individual to pursue independently his rights under both Title VII and other applicable state and federal statutes.” (Emphasis in original.)
Thus, “there is no basis for concluding that Congress intended that a civil rights claimant should be entitled to delay filing any state tort claims during the EEOC’s consideration of a charge of discrimination.“
The court declined to address plaintiff’s argument that New York state law provided for the tolling of state law claims during the pendency of plaintiff’s EEOC charge.