Overruling its own 1986 decision, the Michigan Supreme Court has now held that the “continuing violations” doctrine as applied to Michigan’s civil rights statutes must be discontinued. Under the continuing violations doctrine, a jury could consider factual allegations of discrimination or retaliation against an employee occurring outside the applicable three-year statute of limitations. In order to support such claims under this doctrine, the employee first had to demonstrate the existence of a violation that was within the limitations period. Then, the employee had to demonstrate either that the employer had engaged in a “policy of discrimination” or “a series of allegedly discriminatory acts which are sufficiently related so as to constitute a pattern.”
Initially, the Court had “borrowed” the continuing violations doctrine from federal precedent which applied this doctrine to federal civil rights cases brought under Title VII. However, in its reexamination of the doctrine’s vitality as applied to Michigan law, the Court found that “to allow recovery for such claims is simply to extend the statute of limitations period beyond that which was expressly established by the Legislature.” The Court pointed out that the need to apply this doctrine to Michigan’s civil rights cases was obviated by the fact that employees have ample time to assert their rights under Michigan’s three-year limitations period as opposed to the Title VII 180-day limitations period.
In addition to ruling that alleged acts outside the limitations period could not be presented to the jury for adjudication of damages, such acts could not even be presented “as background evidence in support of a timely claim.” Interestingly, the Court dismissed the employee’s lawsuit because when the acts outside the limitations period were stripped from the case, the remaining alleged acts were insufficient to set out a legally viable claim.
This is clearly good news for employers. An employee who believes he/she may have been discriminated against can no longer “wait in the weeds” for countless years to ambush the employer at some later point in time.
For more information, contact a member of Berry Moorman’s labor and employment group.