What Starts The Time Running?
Your 180 days or 300 days starts running as soon as you receive clear and unambiguous notice that the employer has subjected you, or is in the future going to subject you, to an adverse employment action.
For example, if you are a teacher and you are told by the employer that you will be fired as soon as the school year ends, your time starts running as soon as the employer gives you this information, not when you are shown the door.
If a tenure-track college professor is told in January that she or he will not get tenure but will be given a one-year teaching contract for the next year and that there will be no further contracts, her or his time starts running as soon as she or he is notified. Waiting until the employment ends can result in the loss of the claim. Waiting until you exhaust your academic appeal rights and rights of consideration can also result in the loss of the claim. Internal appeals and requests for reconsideration do not stop the clock running.
In a hostile-environment case, there has to be a “critical mass” of harassing actions before the law is violated. Mere unpleasantness is not enough. For this reason, people harmed by a racially or sexually hostile environment can wait longer to take action. As long as some harassing action that is part of the same pattern takes place during the charge-filing period (180 days where there is no deferral agency, and 300 days where there is such an agency), the employee can obtain relief in court for actions earlier than the charge-filing period as long as they involve the same type of conduct and the same pattern.
There are some situations in which no reasonable person would file a charge, because the employer lied so that you would not know of an adverse employment action, or you lacked some critical piece of information. Sometimes, a court will decide that the time starts running when you learn the truth. For example, older workers may be told that everyone’s pay is being cut by a third so that the employer can survive. Then, Human Resources makes a mistake a year later and lets a document out that results in employees finding out that the only people taking a pay cut were older than 55, and that everyone over 55 had a pay cut. The charge-filing time starts running as soon as the employees learn that they were singled out for a pay cut based on their age. This is a complicated area, and this exception saves only a few charges. It is best to file a charge as soon as you know the minimally necessary information, and know that something serious is at stake, and not wait until you know as much as possible. This is an example of an area in which talking with fellow employees can be very helpful.