Sexual Harassment Too Old To Be ‘Continuing’

Genevieve Drees has served both as a dispatcher and a detention employee for Suffolk County, New York. Drees brought a sex discrimination lawsuit against the County, contending that she was the victim of gender-based hostile work environment harassment, and that she had been retaliated against for raising a harassment issue. A federal court dismissed the first of the claims, finding the allegations barred by the statute of limitations.

Drees relied on a series of incidents from 1991 to 1997 when various sergeants allegedly made sexual comments to her and her female coworkers. However, it was undisputed that the alleged harassment ceased completely in 1997 when several of the sergeants were transferred out of her precinct, and the next alleged incident regarding a hostile work environment did not occur until 2004 when a sergeant began reprimanding and criticizing her.

The Court found that under these conditions, Drees could not rely on the alleged 1991 to 1997 incidents as evidence of “continuing” sexual harassment. The Court noted that the statute of limitations in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “begins to run for each discriminatory or retaliatory act when each act occurs. Claims for relief under Title VII that took place 300 days or more prior to June 8, 2005 would generally be time barred.”

Drees argued that the 1991 to 1997 incidents were important because they showed a “continuing violation that created a hostile work environment at the Suffolk County Police Department.” The Court disagreed: “Drees conceives that the alleged harassment stopped in 1997 when various sergeants were transferred and that there were no incidents whatsoever for at least five years later. Moreover, the incidents in 2004 and 2005 involved different supervisors and, even according to Drees, were based upon illegal retaliation for her protected activities (not gender). In short, there is no evidentiary basis from which a rational jury could find a continuing hostile work environment from 1991 to 2005. Accordingly, the 1991-1997 conduct does not fall within the continuing violation doctrine and is time-barred under Title VII.”

The Court left alive Drees’ claim for retaliation, finding she had submitted sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on the issue.

Drees v. County of Suffolk, 2009 WL 875530 (E.D. N.Y. 2009).

This article appears in the May 2009 issue