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Case Bulletin – Federal District Court Addresses Continuing Violation Doctrine

On March 11, 2016, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted the employer-defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, providing further explanation of the continuing violation doctrine in employment discrimination claims.  In the case of Camplese v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, No. 15-784, 2016 WL 930728 (M.D. Pa. March 11, 2016), Plaintiff began working as a broker for Morgan Stanley in 1990.  Around June 2006, Plaintiff began to take multiple leaves of absence for health problems.  Thereafter, Plaintiff claimed that her supervisors made repeated comments and inquiries about her absences of leave and that she received harassing comments from a co-worker about her job security.  Plaintiff alleged that as a result of deteriorating working conditions, she resigned her employment on December 18, 2012.  Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and subsequently received a right to sue letter.  She filed suit in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, and Morgan Stanley removed the action.


Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint alleging constructive discharge and hostile work environment pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights of Act of 1964.  Plaintiff further alleged unlawful retaliation pursuant to the ADA and Title VII on the basis that the employer allegedly retaliated against her for participating in a class action suit against the employer in 2008.  Morgan Stanley moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims as time-barred under the ADA and Title VII.  Plaintiff responded that all of her claims were timely under the continuing violation doctrine.  Morgan Stanley countered that the continuing violation doctrine is not applicable because none of the alleged discriminatory acts occurred within the limitations period, and further, that Plaintiff failed to allege anything more than isolated or sporadic acts of alleged discrimination.


The court found that based upon the 300-day filing requirement of the ADA and Title VII, the only alleged discriminatory act that occurred within the 300-day filing period was Plaintiff’s constructive discharge, and therefore, absent an exception to the 300-day filing requirement, the discriminatory acts that formed the basis of Plaintiff’s constructive discharge would be time-barred.  The court observed that the continuing violation doctrine was such an exception to the applicable filing requirement.


The court explained that the continuing violation doctrine applies where the discriminatory conduct is part of a continuing practice, and aggregates discriminatory acts that are not individually actionable into a hostile work environment claim.  Thus, the court observed, a charge of discrimination alleging a hostile work environment or a constructive discharge, will not be time barred so long as all acts which constitute the claim are part of the same unlawful employment practice and at least one act falls within the applicable time period.


The court identified two factors which should be considered when distinguishing continuing violations from isolated occurrences: subject matter and frequency.  The court opined that the subject matter prong inquires whether the violations constitute the same type of discrimination, tending to connect them in a continuing violation; the frequency prong asks whether the acts are recurring or more in the nature of isolated incidents.


Applying these factors, the court observed that Plaintiff failed to allege more than sporadic acts of discrimination such that there were no acts of discrimination between 2009 and 2011, and that even if the alleged discriminatory acts occurring in 2008 and 2011 constituted the same pattern of discrimination, the large break in time precluded a finding of an ongoing, persistent pattern of discrimination.  The court thus held that Plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient to invoke the continuing violation doctrine.  The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under the ADA and Title VII, again finding no temporal proximity between Plaintiff’s participation the class action suit in 2008 and her constructive discharge in 2012.