In a case of first impression, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations applicable to discrimination claims filed under the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act (RICRA) is one (1) year. RICRA was enacted in 1990 and does not contain a statute of limitations. Under RICRA, aggrieved employees may proceed directly to court without having to exhaust the administrative processes contained in the state’s primary employment discrimination law, the Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA). In Horn v. So. Union Co., the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island certified a question of law to the Supreme Court to determine the statute of limitations that applied to employment discrimination actions brought under RICRA. In prior cases, the U.S. District Court had applied the one (1) year statute of limitations contained in FEPA, while the First Circuit Court of Appeals had applied the state’s residual three (3) year statute of limitations for personal injuries.
The court found that RICRA and FEPA should be read in relation to each other and consistent with their general objective and scope. The court noted that the Legislature had expressly chosen to impose a one-year limitation on employment discrimination actions under FEPA and that it did not include any other limitations period when it enacted RICRA some 40 years later. Moreover, the court concluded that allowing employees three (3) years to file a discrimination claim would render FEPA meaningless.