Legal Memorandum: Hostile Work Environment Claims in NJ

Issue: What sort of statute of limitations applies to hostile work environment claims in New Jersey?

Area of Law: Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Hostile work environment claim; Continuing tort doctrine; Statute of limitations
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 962 A.2d 1150; 133 N.J. 282; 204 N.J. 219; 804 A.2d 1193; 174 N.J. 1; 132 N.J. 587; 803 A.2d 611; 627 A.2d 654; 985 A.2d 1225
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 10/01/2011

Discrimination claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), including claims alleging a hostile work environment, are subject to a two-year statute of limitationsMontells v. Haynes, 133 N.J. 282, 292, 627 A.2d 654 (1993).  However, New Jersey courts have adopted the continuing violation doctrine concept, analogous to the continuing tort doctrine applied in other contexts, to permit recovery for the entire pattern of conduct that cumulates in a hostile environment, despite the fact that some of that conduct occurred outside the otherwise applicable limitations period.  See Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, 158 N.J. 263, 266 (1999). 

In Alexander v. Seton Hall University, 204 N.J. 219, 8 A.3d 198 (2010), the court explained that when the plaintiff’s complained-of conduct constituted “a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one unlawful employment practice,” the entire claim may be timely if filed within two years of “the date on which the last component act occurred.”   204 N.J. at 229 (quoting Roa v. Roa, 200 N.J. 555, 567, 985 A.2d 1225 (2010)).  This “continuing violation” doctrine has been recognized under federal Title VII law as an equitable exception to the strict application of the statute of limitations.  Id.  New Jersey courts specifically adopted this doctrine in Shepherd v. Hunterdon Development Center, 174 N.J. 1, 803 A.2d 611 (2002).  Id.  “We turned to the equitable doctrine for assistance in addressing the […]