While employers are allowed to fire most workers in New Jersey or Pennsylvania at any time and for nearly any reason or no reason at all, there are some exceptions to this rule. Employers cannot terminate workers for discriminatory reasons based on their protected statuses. They also cannot fire workers to retaliate against them for engaging in protected activities or in violation of the terms of employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements. In situations in which an employee believes that his or her termination was wrongful, the employee will have a limited time to file a lawsuit against his or her employer. If the employee waits until this limitations period has expired, he or she will be barred from filing a lawsuit to recover damages. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can help you to understand whether you have a valid case and the statute of limitations that applies.
Understanding the statute of limitations
Figuring out how much time you have to file a claim against your employer can be complicated. The statute of limitations for wrongful termination will depend on the law under which you are filing your lawsuit and the conduct that you allege occurred. If you plan to sue your employer, you should act quickly to avoid running into problems with the statute of limitations. If the limitations period expires, you will lose your ability to file a lawsuit and to recover damages for your losses. If you are thinking about filing a wrongful termination claim, you should consult with an experienced employment law attorney at Swartz Swidler as soon as possible.
Before you will be allowed to file a lawsuit against your former employer for discrimination, you might be required to exhaust the administrative remedies that are available to you. Typically, this means that you will need to file a discrimination charge with the state or federal agency, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
The administrative process has a short deadline for filing a discrimination charge. Most workers are required to file their initial discrimination charges no later than 180 days from the date of the adverse employment action to preserve their state claims. For most federal claims, the period for filing may be extended to 300 days from the date of the adverse employment action. Certain discrimination laws do not require you to exhaust the administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, however.
After you file a discrimination charge with your state agency or the EEOC, the agency will initiate an investigation. The EEOC can choose to take the case for the complainant. In most cases, the EEOC will instead send the worker a right to sue letter. After receiving this letter, you will have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer in federal or state court.
If you are sent a right to sue letter by the EEOC after filing your discrimination charge, you will have 90 days to file a civil complaint against your employer in the federal court. However, the statute of limitations may be longer in state court. If you file a discrimination charge in Pennsylvania with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, you will have two years after your claim is dismissed by the PHRC to file a claim against your employer in the state court.
Wrongful termination lawsuits based on discrimination
If your employer wrongfully terminated you, the statute of limitations that will apply will partly depend on your underlying cause of action. If you believe that your employer fired you for a discriminatory reason because of your protected characteristic, the underlying cause of action of your wrongful termination claim is discrimination. The protected characteristics under the federal anti-discrimination laws include the following:
- National origin
- Age if over 40
- Genetic information
- Citizenship status
In addition to these statuses, the EEOC also interprets the prohibition against sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the federal circuit courts of appeal are split.
If your employer fired you based because of your protected characteristic, you will need to start with the EEOC or the relevant state agency to go through the administrative process. This means that you should file a discrimination charge with the EEOC, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within 180 days of the date that you were fired for a discriminatory reason.
Statute of limitations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
If you decide to file a lawsuit against your employer with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights based on discrimination, the general statute of limitations is two years from the date that your employer took the adverse job action against you. This means that you will have two years to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination from the date that you were terminated.
The same statute of limitations would apply if you file a lawsuit for wrongful termination because your employer retaliated against you for complaining about discrimination. For example, imagine that you filed an internal complaint of discrimination within the company, and your employer fired you for complaining in retaliation. Your statute of limitations under the NJLAD would be two years after you were fired by your employer for complaining about discrimination.
Statute of limitations for claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
If you decide to file a wrongful termination claim based on an underlying cause of action of discrimination in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Act will apply. Under this law, you must file your complaint with the PHRC within 180 days of the adverse employment action. However, if your claim involves concurrent federal jurisdiction, the deadline for filing your claim will be enlarged to 300 days from the date of the adverse employment action.
Wrongful termination claims in Pennsylvania
Like New Jersey, the general statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims in state court is two years. This period starts running from the date of your termination. If the underlying cause of action requires you to exhaust your administrative remedies before filing your claim, make certain to file your complaint with the PHRC or EEOC within the appropriate time.
Statute of limitations for hostile work environment claims in New Jersey
The NJLAD treats hostile work environment harassment claims differently than other types of claims. Hostile work environment claims involve numerous instances of harassment that make the working conditions intolerable when they are cumulatively considered. For example, a worker might endure daily obscene jokes, unwanted sexual advances, offensive comments, and offensive jokes over an extended period.
Because of the nature of hostile work environment harassment claims, courts in New Jersey use the continuing violation doctrine to determine when these types of claims are time-barred. The court will consider the entire period when determining whether a continuing violation has occurred. If the court finds that it did, the statute of limitations will start running on the date of the final harassing act.
Constructive discharge claims under federal law
You may have grounds to file a wrongful termination claim based on constructive discharge. A constructive discharge occurs when the working conditions at your work become so intolerable that you feel like you have no other choice other than resigning. If your employer made the conditions intolerable specifically to try to force you to quit, it may be considered to be a termination. If the reason that the employer engaged in the actions was discriminatory, the constructive discharge may be considered to be a wrongful termination.
If you file a constructive discharge wrongful termination claim with the EEOC based on discrimination, you will need to file your charge with the EEOC within 45 days. In Green v. Brennan, 136 S.Ct. 1769 (2016), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the 45-day period begins running from the date of your resignation instead of the date of the last discriminatory incident. This is because the constructive discharge is also considered to be a part of the discriminatory conduct by the employer.
Wrongful termination claims based on a breach of an employment contract
Not many workers have employment contracts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. However, if you were fired from your job in violation of the provisions of an employment contract, you can file a breach of contract claim. This is a state dispute under the contract law. The statute of limitations for filing a breach of contract claim in New Jersey is six years from the date of the breach under N.J.S.A. § 2A:14-1. The statute of limitations for filing a breach of an employment contract claim in Pennsylvania is four years under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5525.
The statute of limitations that might apply to your employment law action will depend on your state. For example, the statute of limitations under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination differ. As you can see from the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey above, there are also different limitations periods in the two states for breach of contract claims.
Many employment law cases also involve concurrent federal actions. If this applies to your claim, you will want to take action before the expiration of the federal statute of limitations. An experienced employment law attorney at Swartz Swidler can help you to understand the different deadlines and limitations periods for all of your employment claims.
In some employment law claims, it can be difficult to determine the date at which the limitations period begins running. However, this typically is not an issue in claims involving wrongful terminations. In those claims, the statute of limitations clock generally begins to run on the date that the workers were fired.
Some wrongful termination lawsuits will also include other employment claims such as hostile work environment or discrimination. When your lawsuit involves several statutes of limitations, you should get help from an attorney to figure out when to file your claim.
Get help from Swartz Swidler
The employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler focus exclusively on employment law disputes. Our lawyers advocate on behalf of workers to protect their rights. We understand that each case is unique, and we can offer guidance about the legal options that might be available to you during a consultation.
If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, you should meet with one of our attorneys as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you might be unable to file a lawsuit to recover damages for your losses. Contact us today to request a consultation by filling out our contact form or calling our office at 856.685.7420.