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Michigan Supreme Court Closes the "Continuing Violation" Loophole for Discrimination Claims

  • August 11, 2005

In a clear victory for employers, the Michigan Supreme Court has rejected a long-standing theory of liability that, until now, individuals have used to resurrect stale discrimination claims that fell outside of state law limits on when lawsuits could be filed.  In a split opinion, the court ruled that untimely claims of discrimination would no longer be permitted under the theory of a "continuing violation" of the state Civil Rights Act, which has a three-year statute of limitations.  [Garg v. Macomb County Community Mental Health Services,.]

Under the so-called continuing violation theory, plaintiffs could seek damages for allegedly discriminatory acts that occurred more than three years prior to a lawsuit, simply by claiming the actions were part of a continuing series of unlawful conduct.  The only limitation on a plaintiff's ability to reach back to actions outside the three-year limitations period was that at least one allegedly discriminatory act did occur within that period.

The plaintiff in the Garg case filed a lawsuit in 1995, alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of national origin and that she had been the object of retaliation by her employer and individual supervisors.  The alleged discrimination and retaliation included various failures to promote her and a history of negative performance evaluations, which dated back to 1983 – nearly twelve years before her lawsuit was filed.  The plaintiff argued that these old actions should be considered under the continuing violation theory because she was denied at least one promotion within the three years prior to filing her lawsuit.  She was successful at trial and on her employer's appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals.    

When the case reached the Michigan Supreme Court, however, those decisions were reversed in a victory for the employer.  "Three years means three years," wrote the majority, closing firmly and finally the continuing violation loophole.  The state supreme court acknowledged that most state and federal courts recognize some form of the continuing violation theory in discrimination cases, but concluded that the plain language of Michigan's Civil Rights Act limits plaintiffs to an absolute maximum of three years from the date of an adverse employment action in which to bring a suit.

This ruling represents a significant change in the law and will relieve employers from the burden of defending allegations of discrimination based on conduct which may have occurred many years ago.  While Michigan employers must remain diligent in preventing, investigating, and correcting employment discrimination, they now are assured that allegations of unlawful actions must be limited to relatively recent conduct, allowing for more timely investigations and effectuation of remedial actions--all of which will lead to a stronger legal defense, as well.

©2005 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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