New Jersey Appellate Court Holds that Statute of Limitations for Hostile Work Environment Claim Commences Upon the Employee’s Leave

Employment Law: The New Jersey Appellate Division recently handed down an important decision interpreting the statute of limitations in work discrimination claims. In Toto v. Princeton Township, 2009 WL 88499 (N.J. Super.A.D. 2009), the Court held that the statute of limitations for the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim ran from the time that he commenced his medical leave, rather than from his date of termination. Toto, the plaintiff, alleged that he suffered from disabilities such as a speech impediment and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He brought suit against his former employer, Princeton Township, based on allegations that he was “verbally taunted and teased” by co-workers; subjected to sexual harassment; that the Township failed to remedy such conduct; and that the Township failed to make reasonable accommodations for him, pursuant to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

Mr. Toto allegedly was involved in a confrontation with two co-workers January 9, 2002 and left his work for medical leave on January 11, 2002, and never returned. In July, 2002, the Township issued correspondence to Mr. Toto inquiring as to whether he was going to return to work and indicating to him that if he did not, he would be terminated upon the expiration of his medical leave. As a result, Mr. Toto was terminated on July 19, 2002.

The plaintiff’s claims consisted of (1) a failure to accommodate and (2) hostile work environment. The plaintiff’s “failure to accommodate” claim allegedly arose in the time during his medical leave. However, the Court determined that the hostile work environment only could arise out of acts that Mr. Toto was subjected to while he was at work. A hostile work environment claim is subject to a two year statute of limitations in New Jersey. In other words, to assert a claim, a plaintiff must commence legal action within two years from the date that the claim arose.

The Toto Court specifically held that for hostile work environment claims, the “statute of limitations began to run when plaintiff left the workplace because this is the date the last act of harassment could have occurred. . . . Because plaintiff was last physically at the work site more than two years before this action was commenced, the claim is barred by the statute of limitations.”

As a result, Mr. Toto’s claim for hostile work environment was dismissed in whole. The Toto case emphasizes the non-waning application of the Courts of the statute of limitations. Regardless of how sympathetic a claim might be, if the time has run, the claim will be barred. Accordingly, it is critical that potential plaintiffs consult counsel immediately to ensure that they have evaluated all potential claims that might be sought and have accounted for the statute of limitations that apply to each.

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