Ashley Ellis was a security guard for U.S. Security Associates, beginning in 2009. Ellis was promoted in 2010 and her direct supervisor was Rick Haynes. Haynes told Ellis that he and his wife were in an open marriage and asked if Ellis wanted to engage in sexual activities with the couple. Ellis rejected the advance. Haynes continued to subject Ellis to unwanted sexual advances at work.
Sometime in the late summer of 2010, several female employees complained about Haynes's sexual behavior. Haynes was required to undergo sexual harassment training. In November 2010 another worker complained about Haynes. That worker was put on unpaid leave while her claims were investigated and Haynes transferred Ellis to a less-desirable post. Later that month Ellis told her superiors of Haynes's continued inappropriate conduct. Haynes was terminated in December 2010.
Following Haynes's termination, Ellis was promoted and promised a raise. However, when her paycheck arrived, she was not paid at the new rate. She received no response on the subject from management, and she quit in January 2011. Ellis had filed a complaint with DFEH and received a right-to-sue letter in December 2010. In November 2011 she filed a complaint for damages against U.S. Security and Haynes. Three of the five causes of action arose from alleged violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA").
U.S. Security filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, accompanied by a copy of Ellis's employment application, which stated that any claims must be brought within 6 months of the triggering incident, regardless of any statutes of limitations that may provide otherwise. The court granted U.S. Security's motion and Ellis appealed.
The appeals court noted that the statute of limitations for claims under FEHA is one-year from the date of the unlawful act. DFEH then has one year to investigate and issue a right-to-sue and the employee has an additional year to file a lawsuit. The court explained that the rights established by FEHA serve a clear public purpose of establishing workplaces free from discrimination.
While the court acknowledged that a statute of limitations period may be contractually shortened, case law holds that any shortened period must still be reasonable, in that it must provide the aggrieved party with sufficient time to effectively pursue a judicial remedy. Here, the six month period was deemed unreasonable by the court.
Limiting Ellis to six months to file a claim would not even allow her to comply with the requirements of FEHA, which hold that an employee must first exhaust administrative remedies through DFEH. Since the shortened time limitation was deemed unreasonable, the appeals court ruled that Ellis's claim against her former employer could proceed in court.
Ellis v. U.S. Security Associates, --Cal.Rptr.3d--, 2014 WL1229038