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How Long Do I Have to File an Employment Discrimination Claim?

Employment discrimination is usually not a one-time affair. Many Oklahoma employees are subject to a pervasive, hostile work environment that lasts for months or even years. Federal and state laws provide remedies for employees who are victims of such discrimination, but it is critical to take prompt action because there are certain statutory deadlines that must be met. 

Racial Discrimination Plaintiff Met Federal, But Not State, Deadline

Consider this ongoing race discrimination case from western Oklahoma. The plaintiff here alleges he was the victim of race discrimination while employed by the defendant. More specifically, he said he "was repeatedly the victim of racially charged remarks and deprived of opportunities for advancement" due to his race.

The plaintiff worked for the defendant between October 2011 and April 2015. He alleges that almost from the beginning, his coworkers were "directing racial jokes and offensive language towards" him. This behavior continued and intensified during the course of the plaintiff's employment-until at least February 2015-and complaints to supervisors did nothing to stop it. Eventually, the defendant fired the plaintiff, ostensibly after he was caught sleeping on the job. The plaintiff alleges this was merely a "pretext," and that the defendant retaliated against him for complaining about racial harassment.

The plaintiff's lawsuit sought relief under both the Oklahoma Antidiscrimination Act (OADA) and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The judge presiding over the case recently dismissed the OADA claim but allowed the plaintiff to proceed with his Title VII charge.

Why was the OADA claim dismissed? In short, because the plaintiff waited too long to bring his case. Employment discrimination cases are atypical in that an affected employee must first file a complaint with an administrative agency-either the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission (OHRC) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)-before pursuing their case in court. This allows the agencies to conduct their own investigation, and in many cases take action on the employee's behalf.

The OADA requires an employee file a complaint with the OHRC "within 180 days after the alleged discriminatory practice occurs." This is based on when the last discriminatory act occurred. In this case, that was the day the defendant fired the plaintiff. Unfortunately, the judge noted, the plaintiff did not bring his complaint to the OHRC until about four weeks after this six-month deadline expired, so the court was barred from hearing his state-law claims.

However, under Title VII, an employee has 300 days to bring a complaint if he "initially instituted proceedings with a State or local agency." Not only did the plaintiff comply with this deadline, the judge said he could also "allege discriminatory acts that took place more than 300 days before he filed his EEOC charge," since they were all part of a single, continuous "hostile work environment" claim.

Need Immediate Assistance With an Employment Law Matter?

When it comes to the law, deadlines matter. That is why if you are the victim of any kind of employment discrimination, the worst thing you can do is delay speaking with an Oklahoma employment law attorney who can advise you of your rights. Call the offices of Frasier, Frasier & Hickman, LLP, at 918-779-3658 to schedule a free initial consultation today.

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