Defendant moves for partial summary judgment.
The question presented is which statute of limitations is applicable to a NJLAD case based on employment discrimination.
On May 11, 1989, the plaintiff filed a complaint alleging a continuing pattern of employment discrimination on the part of her current employer, Supermarkets General Corporation. Specifically, the plaintiff contends that she was denied promotional opportunities from 1979 to the present, and that positions for which she was equally qualified were given to younger, usually male employees. Count One of the Complaint alleges violations of the New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq.
The defendant moves for a partial dismissal of the plaintiff's claims on the grounds that the two-year statute of limitations governing personal injury actions controls the NJLAD claim. The defendant contends, therefore, that all claims of discrimination that relate to events prior to May 11, 1987, are time barred by application of the statute.
The plaintiff argues that the two-year statute is inapplicable to her claims, and that N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1, which provides a six-year statute for actions sounding in property rights, is the most befitting for discrimination claims.
The NJLAD statute does not specify a statute of limitations period of limitations for actions involving employment discrimination.
The limitation of actions statutes provide:
Every action at law for trespass to real property, for any tortious injury to real or personal property, for taking, detaining, or converting personal property, for replevin of goods or chattels, for any tortious injury to the rights of another not stated in sections 2A:14-2 and 2A:14-3 of this Title, or for recovery upon a contractual claim or liability, express or implied, not under seal, or upon an account other than one which concerns the trade or merchandise between merchant and merchant, their factors, agents and servants shall be commenced within 6 years next after the cause of any such action shall have accrued. (N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1).
Every action at law for an injury to the person caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of any person within this state shall be commenced within 2 years next after the cause of any such action shall have accrued. (N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2).
In Leese v. Doe, 182 N.J. Super. 318, 440 A.2d 1166 (Law Div.1981), the court addressed the question of which statute of limitations was applicable to the NJLAD claims based on sex discrimination. The court held that the plaintiff's employment discrimination claim was governed by the six year statute of limitations set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1. In doing so, the court analogized the NJLAD claim to a claim brought under its federal counterpart, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and cited as authority for its holding the case of Davis v. United States Steel Supply, 581 F.2d 335 (3rd Cir.1978). The Davis case held that a petitioner's § 1981 complaint was one which sounded in property rights, and was therefore actionable under Pennsylvania's six-year statute.
Plaintiff's complaint cites incidents of abuse and of personal property damage, but not of bodily injury. The gravamen of the complaint does not concern Mrs. Davis' interest in personal security, but rather involves unlawful interference with her rights as an employee. Mrs. Davis implicitly asserts a right to good faith efforts by an employer to correct instances of co-worker racial harassment and a right not to be discharged for complaining of such incidents. Essentially, Mrs. Davis complains that U.S. Steel Supply demeaned her and fired her because of her race. (Id. at p. 338).
In Skadegaard v. Farrell, 578 F. Supp. 1209 (D.N.J.1984), the court, also relying on Davis, held that the six year statute was applicable to a NJLAD case based on sexual harassment. The court said:
The relief sought by plaintiff is the key to characterization of a cause of action for statute of limitation purposes, and as in Davis, [i]n terms of legal relief, plaintiff's complaint does not seek damages for bodily injury.' (Id. at p. 1214).
The Davis case, the premise for the Leese and Skadegaard cases, was reversed by the United States Supreme Court in Goodman v. Lukens Steel, 482 U.S. 656, 107 S. Ct. 2617, 96 L. Ed. 2d 572 (1987). In that case, which involved racial discrimination, the Supreme Court held that federal courts should select the most applicable state statute of limitations for § 1981 claims, and that ...