Employer’s Internal Complaint Process May Toll MHRA Statute of Limitations

April 25, 2017 – Earlier this month, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that an employee’s internal complaint to his employer’s human resources department suspended the one year statute of limitations period for claims filed under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). The court found that the complaint and subsequent internal investigation in this case constituted a “voluntary dispute resolution process” sufficient to toll the MHRA statute of limitations, even though the claim was filed more than one year after the alleged discriminatory conduct occurred. While a victory for employees, the case is a reminder that employment cases have strict time limits for filing claims.

What is this case about?
In Peterson v. City of Minneapolis, the employee (Peterson) filed a complaint of age discrimination with the Minneapolis human resources department pursuant to the City’s workplace policy. The City took more than one year to complete its investigation and eventually concluded it could not substantiate his claim. Peterson then filed his claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which he later withdrew and commenced litigation in Hennepin County.

The MHRA statute of limitations suspension provision at issue states that “the one-year limitations period is suspended during the time a potential charging party and respondent are voluntarily engaged in a dispute resolution process involving a claim of unlawful discrimination under this chapter.” Although the district court held the claim was not timely filed, the court of appeals reversed, finding the parties had engaged in a “dispute resolution process” during the period of investigation, thus suspending the MHRA statute of limitations. The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed, finding that, by following the employer’s complaint and investigation policy, the parties had “voluntary engaged in a dispute resolution process involving a claim of unlawful discrimination” under the MHRA, consistent with the MHRA’s suspension provision.

Importantly, the court found that the employer’s policy in this case sufficiently outlined a formal process for addressing the complaint by setting forth procedures for filing the complaint, steps to resolve it, and assurance the process would have an objective start and end date. Further, the court noted the investigation was conducted by the human resources department and their investigators with the intent of providing relief and/or resolving the dispute.

While this ruling is a win for Peterson and similarly situated litigants, employees should be mindful that statute of limitations periods apply to all employment law claims and that the Peterson decision is limited to MHRA claims and only applies in certain situations. Not all internal complaint investigations may be covered by the suspension provision.

How long do I have to file an employment lawsuit in Minnesota?
For claims brought under the MHRA—including discrimination, sexual harassment and MHRA retaliation—employees must file the lawsuit within one year after the occurrence of the discriminatory practice. These claims may either be filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights or a court of law.

Employment claims involving whistleblower retaliation, workers’ compensation retaliation, and other employment claims, have statutory time limits that differ from the MHRA. Likewise, claims brought under federal statutes, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also differ from the MHRA. You should consult with an attorney immediately to discuss your potential claims.

Protect Your Employment Rights
Employment If you believe you have suffered unlawful employment discrimination or retaliation, our employment lawyers want to hear from you. Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP is dedicated to protecting employment rights in Minneapolis, St. Paul and throughout Minnesota. Contact us 612-252-3570 or click here for a free initial consultation.