Despite the financial upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Florida’s economic outlook is still positive, and the state is expected to continue outpacing other US regions in terms of job creation.
Even so, it is not easy for everyone to find and maintain a job in Florida, especially in situations involving employment discrimination. In some cases, victims of illegal discrimination need to enter a legal dispute against an employer who incurred an act of illegal discrimination.
In this article, we provide you a guide about the statute of limitations for employment discrimination lawsuits in Florida.
Back to Basics – Florida Employment Law
Florida is an “at-will” employment state, which means that employees can be fired at any time and without any warning. Nonetheless, it does not mean that an employer can terminate an employment relationship for an illegal reason.
As provided by Florida law, employers are allowed to discriminate against an applicant during the job application process. Additionally, no employer is allowed to discriminate against an employee while that employee is working.
Employment Discrimination Lawsuits in Florida – As Provided by Law
As provided by Florida law, any worker who believes that he/she has been a victim of illegal discrimination in the workplace must file an administrative complaint in one of the two responsible agencies at the federal or state level.
At the federal level, the responsible agency is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), while the responsible agency at the state level is the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR).
When a worker in the state of Florida files a complaint to the FCHR, the agency has 180 days to investigate the employee’s allegations and determine if there is a reasonable cause to sustain a criminal charge in court.
However, in case the FCHR fails to investigate the case within 180 days, the worker has the option to proceed with the lawsuit in court.
In a case where the FCHR did not determine the employee’s allegations effectively, the employee must still file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations. Regardless of the case, notice that employees are required by law to file an administrative complaint before proceeding to court.
What Is the Applicable Statute of Limitations for Employment Discrimination Lawsuits in Florida?
For those unaware, the term “statute of limitations” refers to a law that sets the maximum period that parties involved in a dispute have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense.
As provided by the FCRA (Florida Civil Rights Act), employment discrimination lawsuits must be filed within one year counting from the FCHR’s determination of reasonable cause. However, every rule has its exception, which is no different in this case.
In 2000, the Florida Supreme Court established an exception for cases where the FCHR failed to determine the reasonability within the required 180 days.
Statute of Limitations for Employment Discrimination Lawsuits in Florida- A Case Study
A recent case that occurred in Florida (Hines v. Whataburger Restaurants LLC) demonstrates the exception established by the Florida Supreme Court 21 years ago.
In this particular case, the plaintiff worked at a Whataburger restaurant for around two years before being terminated. Consequently, the plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the FCHR, as required by law.
However, after the 180-day period required for investigation expired without any formal conclusion from the FCHR, the plaintiff decided to proceed directly to court and withdraw her complaint from FCHR.
In this case, the plaintiff filed her lawsuit against her former employer more than two years after withdrawing her administrative complaint, so the company utilized this to dismiss the case, using the FCRA’s one-year statute of limitations as a defense.
On the occasion, the trial court agreed with the company’s position regarding the situation and dismissed the case. However, the plaintiff did not surrender and appealed to the court.
Later, the Florida First District Court of Appeal reversed the case. The reason was that the plaintiff’s case fell within the exception established by the Florida Supreme Court in 2000.
The decision states that in situations where the FCHR fails to determine reasonable cause within the required period (180 days), the individual who filed the complaint can proceed with a lawsuit within the statute of limitations applicable to statutory violations in general.
In the state of Florida, the statute of limitations applicable to general statutory violations is four years.