On November 17, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed Senate Bill 3255 (the “Act”) into law. The Act amends Section 297-5 of the New York Executive Law (“Section 297-5”) by extending the statute of limitations for filing unlawful discrimination complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights (the “Division”) from one to three years. According to the Act’s Sponsor Memo, the Legislature recognized that the prior time frame for victims of unlawful discriminatory practices to file administrative complaints with the Division was insufficient compared to “the amount of time it may take a victim to come to terms with their harassment.”
This is not the first time the State has modified the statute of limitations under Section 297-5. In 2019, the Legislature amended Section 297-5 to provide claimants with additional time to file sexual harassment in employment complaints. Effective August 12, 2020, the 2019 amendments expanded the statute of limitations for such complaints from one to three years. The 2019 amendments did not change the statute of limitations for complaints involving other types of unlawful discrimination.
The recently signed Act now provides congruence in the time claimants must file an administrative complaint for all unlawful discriminatory practices alleged under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). Unlawful discriminatory practices include, but are not limited to, discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, sexual orientation, among other protected classes. It is also an unlawful discriminatory practice to retaliate against an individual for opposing any of the practices listed under Section 296 of the New York Executive Law, or because that individual has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding under that same section. The Act is also significant, because it aligns the statute of limitations for filing a NYSHRL complaint with the Division with the statute of limitations for filing a NYSHRL complaint in court. Thanks to the Act, regardless of the venue, claimants must file all unlawful discrimination claims under the NYSHRL within three years of the alleged unlawful practice.
The Act will take effect on February 15, 2024. Significantly, the Act does not apply retroactively; thus, only claims of unlawful discriminatory practices arising on or after February 15, 2024 will be subject to the new three-year filing period.
While the effects of the Act will not be felt for some time, employers should be prepared to face an overall uptick in complaints of unlawful discrimination given the extended timeframe for employees to lodge complaints.
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