When an Employment Discrimination Claim Won’t Hold Water

An employment discrimination claim should be more than a list of grievances. To avoid dismissal, it must be timely and justified by facts and law.

In Louisiana, an employment discrimination claim can generally be submitted within 12 months of an incident before it becomes late – or prescribed – by statute. R.S. 23:303(D). An employee who requests an administrative review by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights (LCHR) will have 18 months.

A claim must also state a cause of action: identify which law was violated and how. The following case illustrates what happens when the plaintiff fails to communicate that clearly. 

On March 6, 2012, Donna Jean Wilson filed a suit alleging that her employer, LSU Medical School (LSU), discriminated against her due to a back injury she had suffered since January 2008. She claimed that she was forced to endure a “hostile and abusive work environment” because of her injury. Ms. Wilson accused her employer of violating four statutes: 

  • The Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (LEDL)
  • The Louisiana Whistleblower Statute
  • The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)

The district court dismissed all four claims as untimely. Ms. Wilson argued to Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal that her claims were timely because she continuously faced discrimination. However, even a recurring issue can expire if the most recent occurrence was more than 12–18 months before the claim was filed. See Bustamento. Though Ms. Wilson provided a list of injurious remarks and actions by her employer, she did not indicate that any had occurred within 18 months of her March 2012 suit. Therefore, the Court of Appeal reaffirmed the district court’s decision on the LEDL claim. 

The other claims were returned to the district court for failure to state a cause of action. This was because Ms. Wilson did not properly communicate how LSU’s conduct constituted a violation of Title VII, the Whistleblower Statute, or FMLA. However, back at the district level, Ms. Wilson would have an opportunity to amend her claims. LSA-C.C.P. art. 934

First, it would behoove her to substitute her Title VII claim with an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim. Title VII only addresses discrimination due to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The amendment should also include a more specific rationale for alleging an ADA violation; for example, if Ms. Wilson requested and was refused reasonable accommodations for her disability.

Similarly, Ms. Wilson should provide supporting facts for her Whistleblower claim under LSA R.S. 23:967.  She might, for instance, contend that LSU threatened to retaliate against her for divulging information of a legally compromising nature. Finally, Ms. Wilson can only recover for an FMLA violation if she provides a factual basis for claiming that she exercised FMLA benefits and LSU responded in a punitive fashion.

To help avoid a years-long struggle like Wilson v. LSU, think diligently about whether your employment discrimination claim will hold water. You can:

1) Check the calendar. Have you experienced a discriminatory event within the last year? 

2) Check the law. What sort of protections exist for the type of discrimination you have faced?

3) Check the facts. What information can you provide that suggests a violation of the law has occurred?

4) If you’re struggling with 1-3, check with your best local injury lawyer.

Additional Sources: Donna Jean Wilson v. LSU Medical School of New Orleans

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Emily Toto

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Louisiana Employment Discrimination Claims: What Happens When You Wait to File an Employee Discrimination Lawsuit in Louisiana?

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