If you have read this blog for any length of time, you will know that statutes of limitation are laws (duly passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor) that set time limits for various kinds of cases to be filed. Different kinds of cases have different limits. For instance, 2 years for discrimination claims and 6 years for breach of contract. In each case the people's elected representatives made certain judgments about the appropriate time period for each kind of case and established as policy what it viewed as the proper period of time.
In Rodriguez v. Raymour & Flanagan, as we posted here early this year, an intermediate NJ court allowed a company through a statement in an employment application to reduce the statute of limitations for discrimination claims from 2 years to just 6 months. An aggrieved employee waited 9 months, and his case was thrown out as time-barred on the basis of the employer's artifical limitations period.
The appeal has now made its way to the NJ Supreme Court, which heard oral argument on December 1. A decision can be expected in the Spring of 2016. One would hope that the employee will be allowed to proceed with his case. The right of an employer to insist upon a shorter period of legal exposure than deemed consistent with public policy by the Legislature seems problematic. This is especially so where the genesis of the reduction is contained in an application for employment, where the bargaining power of the parties is manifestly unequal.
The Court recently has required employers that want to force upon their employees arbitration of employment disputes to move the “contract” out of the employee handbook and into a separate contract, as we discussed here. At a minimum we think that fairness requires a similar approach here.
Or, as we stated previously, perhaps the Legislature should revisit this issue to make clear whether private parties will be allowed to create their own artificial statutes of limitation.