Highwater v. Animus, CA No.: 12-3206, (E.D.P.A. Oct. 10, 2012) is an employment discrimination case. The main issue analyzed by the court is when an action must be brought to be within the statute of limitations. These issues are not as easy as one would think because the statute begins to run in employment discrimination cases from the point at which the discriminatory act is performed.
The case arose when the plaintiff, an African-American woman was demoted and given poor performance reviews. The employee was promoted in 2009, and believed the position was permanent. Then, in March, 2010, she believed she would be getting a pay raise. When the pay raise did not come, she complained to an ethics board, and was subsequently demoted. She also alleged that a Caucasian female was promoted over her, and that after her demotion a Caucasian male replaced her in her earlier position. Plaintiff again filed an ethics complaint, and claimed that as a result she was given a lower performance rating. As a result she instituted claims for race and gender discrimination under Title VII and the PHRA as well as an equal pay act claim. She received a right to sue letter from the EEOC on March 12, 2012, and then filed suit June 6, 2012. The defendants moved to dismiss the claims for Title VII and PHRA as time barred; additionally they moved to dismiss the equal pay act claims because the Plaintiff failed to allege a male employee received higher compensation for similar work.
As to the time-barred argument of Defendants, the court noted that the PHRA and Title VII overlap in this regard. Thus one analysis of time-lines is enough. In order to sue under either, the Court stated a plaintiff must exhaust administrative remedies by filing a charge with either the PHRC or EEOC. If filing with the PHRC, it must be done within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. If filing with the EEOC it must be within 300 days of the discriminatory action or within 30 days of receiving notice that the local agency has finished their investigation and dismissed the case. In this case, the Plaintiff filed her complaint with the EEOC on March 24, 2011. For the purposes of the complaint then, discrimination which happened on or after May 10, 2010 was sufficient for Title VII. On the other hand, PHRA claims had to have occurred on or after September 24, 2010. The plaintiff in this case failed to properly allege any discriminatory acts which occurred within these respective filing periods. In fact, when trying to use the continuing violations theory, the Court found that not even one act had been alleged to have occurred within the relevant time frame. As a result the Defendant won the motion to dismiss both these claims as time-barred.
An equal pay act claim is a bit different than the other claims because it requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that employees of the opposite sex were paid differently for performing work of substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, under similar working conditions. Under the equal pay act, a claim must be brought within 2 years if the violation is not willful and within 3 if it is willful. Plaintiff did not have to exhaust administrative remedies for this claim; however, any acts which the claim was based on had to have occurred within the relevant period. As a result, alleging on June 6, 2012 that a non-willful act occurred in March, 2010 essentially was not actionable. The other problem the Court had was even if the plaintiff was given the more favorable 3 year period, there was no allegation that the male employee was paid any differently. As a result, the Defendant's motions were granted.
This case is a good example of the highly structured nature of employment discrimination claims. While the cases may be difficult to prove, it is more important that dates are observed. Consider in this case, had the Plaintiff filed her EEOC complaint as soon as a negative employment act occurred, and then there would not have been a statute of limitations problem.