Recently, many women have come forward in reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace. A wave of shock has flooded our communities after the perpetrators of the allegations have been A-List celebrities such as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Laurer, as well as government representatives across the country. Unfortunately, although the identities of the accused perpetrators may be unexpected, the harsh reality is that this behavior in the work place is not so uncommon.
Another aspect of these emerging reports that carries an element of shock is the time frame of some of the allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment. In certain cases, the assault and harassment claims date back as far as 20-30 years. It goes without saying that the delayed time frame from the instance of sexual assault or sexual harassment to the instance of the reporting does not nullify or even diminish the severity of harm caused. In many states, the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges against a perpetrator of sexual assault is very generous. For example, in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges for allegations of sexual assault is 12 years, unless the victim is a minor, then the time frame extends until the victim turns 50 years old. The purpose of this is to maximize the protections of the law for these types of serious crimes.
However, when it comes to civil remedies for sexual harassment, the law is a bit more stringent with its time limitations. In Pennsylvania, a discrimination claim must be filed with either the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If a claim is filed with the PHRC, it must be filed within 180 days from the last date of the sexual harassment. Once a complaint is dismissed by the PHRC, an individual must file a civil complaint within two years from the date of dismissal.
These stricter time limits have caused some sister courts to adopt the “continuing violations doctrine,” which allows a plaintiff to pursue a claim past the technical statutory period if he or she can demonstrate that each asserted act is a part of a pattern of harassment and at least one of those acts occurred within the statutory limitations period. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not yet explicitly adopted this doctrine, although some of the lower courts have chosen to follow it.