How Employers Can Limit Your Time to Sue Them Under New York Law
Bringing a successful claim against an employer is no easy matter, particularly under New York law.
Primarily, the reason for this difficulty is that the vast majority of employees are employed at will, which almost inherently precludes the viability of most wrongful termination claims. (For more on this topic, please see "3 Reasons That Your Employment Agreement May Not Be Worth the Paper It's Printed On").
Another critical component, or hurdle to viable claim against an employer, is that New York allows employers to limit the time within which you can bring a claim. More specifically, Civil Practice Law and Rule (CPLR) section 201, provides as follows:
"An action ... must be commenced within the time specified in this article unless a different time is prescribed by law or a shorter time prescribed by written agreement. No court shall extend the time limited by law for the commencement of an action."
Applying this statute, New York's courts have held that parties are therefore free to shorten the six-year statute of limitations that is normally reserved for breach of contract actions, stating:
"Absent proof that the contract is one of adhesion, or is the product of overreaching, or that the altered period is unreasonably short, the abbreviated period of limitation is valid and enforceable ( see, Sapinkopf v. Cunard Steamship Co., Ltd., 254 N.Y. 111, 172 N.E. 259; Planet Constr. Corp. v. Board of Educ. of City of N.Y., 7 N.Y.2d 381, 198 N.Y.S.2d 68, 165 N.E.2d 758; Krohn v. Felix Indus., 226 A.D.2d 506, 641 N.Y.S.2d 77; Timberline Elec. Supply Corp. v. Insurance Co. of North Amer., 72 A.D.2d 905, 421 N.Y.S.2d 987).”
As noted in "One Way a Contract Can Be Held Unenforceable in New York," the standard for invalidating a contract as being adhesionary, or "unconsionable" is understandably quite high.
Thus, the moral of the story here is rather obvious: if you intend to file a claim against your employer, make sure you take particular care to comply with all (reduced) statutes of limitations.