What is the statute of limitations in Texas and what happens if the statute of limitations runs out?

Dallas employment attorney for discrimination and FMLAThere is no actual “statute of limitations” passed by the Texas legislature that gives the limitations period for all suits. The phrase refers to the limited period of time to bring a suit to court, whether it is a divorce, personal injury, employment, or even criminal suit. Different types of suits have different limitations periods under the law. The period of time to bring a suit for a particular event is the limitations period.

Once limitations runs out you generally cannot bring suit for that event. Statute of limitations periods are extremely important to Texas labor and employment attorneys.

The most common use of limitations in pop culture is in those criminal law and police shows like CSI or Law & Order. If you commit a crime and the limitations runs before you are charged with an offense related to your action then you cannot be tried for that crime. It’s one of those “technicalities” that allows criminals to get away with crimes on those shows.

In civil cases the statute of limitations works the same way. If you are in a car accident, for example, and you decide to sue the other driver for damages, in Texas you generally have two years to file suit. Once that two years ends you generally cannot file suit for anything related to that car accident.

When limitations period begins to run in Texas

Determining when limitations begins can sometimes be a complex issue. In the car accident, you may have two years to file suit but you may not be aware of the extent of your injuries until possibly months or years later. The physical damage to your car is generally very obvious so usually it is difficult to prove the limitations period began any time later than the day of the accident.

But you may have a bodily injury that was slight but over time has become aggravated through the course of normal activities, such as work or playing with your kids. You may not become aware of the seriousness of the injury until months later. So there might be a question of whether limitations for the bodily injury began on the date of the accident or later when you discovered the injury. Figuring out that issue is very fact specific.

Sometimes the initial event may be less obvious. This is especially true in employment cases. Often an employee will not know the employer was discriminating against them or underpaying them until months down the line. In these cases the limitations period may not begin until the employee learns about the problem or should have learned about the problem. Usually employers do not clearly communicate they are doing something improper or illegal. Again, this is very fact specific. Hiring an employment lawyer is one of the best ways to ensure the proper limitations period is identified for your potential claims.

Texas statute of limitations

For most lawsuits in Texas the limitations period is between two and four years; but that is not always the case. Some suits may have longer limitations periods and some may have very short periods. In many employment-related suits you must act within as little as 180 days. There are few rare exceptions to the statute of limitations that allows you to still sue even if limitations runs. Like everything else with the statute of limitations, it is fact specific.

If you believe you have a possible lawsuit it is important to think about what will make it “right”. There may be settlement options or administrative remedies through the government or other organizations; however, a lawsuit may be the necessary path. If you sit on your hands for too long you may not be able to recover at all. Once the threat of a possible lawsuit goes away it is extremely difficult to procure a settlement.

Texas statute of limitations for employment lawsuits

In Texas an employment lawsuit may arise under a combination of federal, state and local laws. This is true whether the lawsuit is for wrongful discharge, pay or benefits issues, discrimination, FMLA, or other employment claims. All forms of employment claims carry a limitations period. The statute of limitations is not universal for each of these claims. Technical procedural rules may determine the calculation of the statute of limitations to a particular employment claim.

The best thing to do if you believe you have an employment claim is to contact Texas employment lawyers. Today’s post will discuss some of the limitations periods for common employment claims.

Wage/Pay/Compensation Claims in Texas

For claims involving minimum wage violations or unpaid overtime pay, the Fair Labor Standards Act and Texas Payday Law sets the limitations period at two years. That period can extend to three years if the violation of minimum wage or overtime duties is intentional. For compensation claims not based on minimum wage or overtime violations a lawsuit can arise for breach of contract and the statute of limitations is four years.

Instead of filing a lawsuit to recover unpaid wages an employee can file an administrative complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. This complaint must be filed within 180 days of the date the wages should have been paid.

Employee Benefits Claims in Texas

Claims under employee benefit plans often require the employee to perform certain steps before a lawsuit. For employee benefit plans governed by ERISA the employee generally must file a written claim with the plan administrator and give the administrator an opportunity to satisfy the claim before filings a lawsuit. If the administrator denies the claim then the employee must appeal within a certain period. After denying the appeal then the employee may file suit. The exception to this requirement is where the filing of a claim would be fruitless.

Simultaneously a limitations period is separately running to file suit in court for the ERISA claim. (In the event the appeal is unresolved before the limitations period will expire, the employee can file suit and the suit is put on hold until the appeal is decided.) The limitations period varies by type of claim. Plan provisions, state law, or ERISA may determine the limitations period. The limitations period may extend for as much as six years after the employee discovers the possible claim.

Some benefit plans are non-ERISA plans and different laws and plan provisions govern potential lawsuits for plan benefits. It is necessary to review the plan terms and applicable laws to determine the specific limitations period for a given plan.

Family Medical Leave Act Claims

Claims under FMLA for interference, denial of benefits and retaliation follow the same rules as wage claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act which is two years unless the violation was willful, which extends the limitations period to three years.

Occupational Health and Safety Act Claims in Texas

An employee is permitted to file a complaint with OSHA and request an investigation if the employee believes workplace conditions violates OSHA regulations or has created an imminent danger to employees. If the employer retaliates against the employee for filing the complaint then the employee has a remedy for that retaliation by filing a second complaint with OSHA for the retaliation. This second complaint must be filed within thirty days of the retaliatory conduct. There is no right to a private lawsuit under OSHA so that complaint filed with OSHA is extremely important.

National Labor Relations Act Claims in Texas

Claims involving union activity or the right to work together to improve workplace conditions are covered by the National Labor Relations Act. To pursue a claim for an unfair labor practice under the NLRA the employee must either file a charge (complaint) with the National Labor Relations Board or file suit in federal court within six months.

Employment Discrimination Claims in Texas

Claims related to employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age (over forty), religion, disability and national origin generally follow a two step process before filing a lawsuit. For most employment discrimination claims an employee must file a charge of discrimination before any lawsuit. This charge must go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division. A charge filed with the EEOC must be on file no later than 300 days after the discriminatory events occurred or with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division within 180 days.

Filing a charge with the EEOC will open the door to a federal lawsuit and a charge filed with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division will open the door to a Texas court lawsuit. After filing the charge the agency will investigate and in most cases will issue a right to sue letter.

The employee must file suit within 90 days of an EEOC right to sue letter or 60 days of a TWC letter. (Different processes and timelines exist for federal employees who have alternative EEO office procedures.) Claims for sex-based pay discrimination do not require a charge if the claim is under the Equal Pay Act. If the claim will also be under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act then you must file a charge.

In addition to the claims process, there is a two year limitations period for the lawsuit. If the limitations period will run faster than the investigation then the employee may file the lawsuit. It will pause the lawsuit until the right to sue letter is issued. The limitations period extends to three years under Equal Pay Act claims for willful violations.

Whistleblower Claims in Texas

Employees may gain protections for whistleblowing both internally or externally under a variety of federal, state, or local laws. These protections often require employees to file claims for retaliation within a short period of time. Often the employee must file a complaint within months. Acting quickly to identify where to complain and how to complain is important.

Sabine Pilot Claims in DFW

In Texas we do not have the broad realm of common law or statutory wrongful discharge claims. The one common law wrongful discharge claim we have is known as a Sabine Pilot claim. A Sabine Pilot claim asserts the employer fired the employee for refusing to perform illegal acts for the employer. The statute of limitations for a Sabine Pilot claim is two years.

Other Texas Law Claims

Workplace situations can create other types of claims under Texas law with varied limitations periods. Defamation claims can arise from prior or current employers. These claims have a one year statute of limitations. Claims brought as a breach of contract have a long four year statute of limitations. Most other claims that might arise have a two year statute of limitations.

Employment lawyers in Texas

Employment lawyers in Texas represent employees in a range of employment law issues. These include employment discrimination, overtime pay, wrongful termination, FMLA, tip pooling violations and minimum wage violations. If you believe your employer violated your employee rights then you should contact employment lawyers ASAP. Many employment law cases require complex procedures to advance employee claims. Employment lawyers in Texas know how to maneuver these procedures to fight for your claims.

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