Why it matters: Joining two other federal appellate courts, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not toll the limitations period for state law tort claims – even when it arises out of the same factual circumstances. Despite the fact that New York’s one-year statute of limitations on tort claims had passed by the time she filed her complaint, an employment discrimination plaintiff alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery in her suit. But the unanimous three-judge panel found “no basis for concluding that Congress intended that a civil rights claimant should be entitled to delay filing any state tort claims during the EEOC’s consideration of a charge of discrimination,” affirming dismissal of her tort claims as time-barred.

Detailed Discussion

An accountant and receptionist for Majestic Kitchens, Patricia Castagna alleged that the company’s owner, Bill Luceno, regularly subjected female employees to an abusive work environment. Luceno yelled, engaged in offensive physical contact, and made “lewd, racial, and sexual comments and innuendos,” according to Castagna’s complaint.

After a particularly unpleasant incident, Castagna resigned on July 9, 2008. She filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) a few months later and received her right-to-sue letter from the agency on August 14, 2009. She then filed a federal complaint on November 9, 2009, that included federal claims based on violations of Title VII as well as tort claims based on assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Based on the one-year statute of limitations in New York for tort claims, Majestic moved to dismiss. Castagna argued that by filing a charge with the EEOC – and waiting for her right-to-sue letter – she tolled the one-year time limit that ran out on July 9, 2009, four months before she filed her complaint.

If such claims were not tolled, she told the court, then litigants would be forced to first bring a tort case in state court and later bring a separate federal discrimination lawsuit with identical facts, resulting in a waste of judicial economy. Rushing a case to trial would also undermine the EEOC’s opportunity to facilitate dispute resolution prior to commencing litigation, Castagna said.

Although the 2nd Circuit recognized the value of EEOC proceedings, the court held that Congress did not intend for the agency’s efforts to delay independent avenues of redress.

Plaintiffs in Castagna’s position can ask a court to stay proceedings in the initial action until the EEOC’s administrative work has been completed, the panel suggested. Castagna “always had ‘an unfettered right’ to pursue her tort claims,” the court wrote. “Notably, Castagna does not urge that she could not have brought those claims within the applicable statute of limitations. She simply failed to do so.”

The panel cited similar holdings from the 7th and 9th Circuits as well as the “vast majority” of district courts within the 2nd Circuit that have considered the issue.

To read the decision in Castagna v. Luceno, click here.