On June 30, 2020, Florida amended the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FCRA) that shortens the time frame for filing a lawsuit where the Florida Commission on Human (FCHR) either: (1) fails to issue a determination on a Charge of Discrimination within 180 days of filing the Charge or (2) issues a Cause Determination.
The Florida FCRA prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status. However, similar to its federal counterpart, prior to filing a lawsuit, a person must first exhaust administrative remedies by filing a Charge with the FCHR. This Charge must be filed within 365 days of the adverse job action. The FCHR will then conduct an investigation to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe a violation occurred.
Prior to this amendment, the FCRA was silent on the time frame to file suit where a cause determination was made or no determination was made after 180 days. The Supreme Court in Joshua v. City of Gainesville, 768 So. 2d 432 (Fla. 2000), held that the employee could file a lawsuit alleging an FCRA violation within four years from the date the alleged violation occurred, when the FCHR fails to make a determination within 180 days. (emphasis added).
Now, if, within 180 days, the FCHR issues a determination that there is reasonable cause, the charging party has two courses of action they may pursue. They may file a lawsuit or they may request a hearing before a Division of Administrative Hearings Law judge. If they choose to file a lawsuit, they have one year to do so, or they are barred from filing. If, however, the FCHR issues a determination that it failed to find reasonable cause within 180 days, the charging party has only one course of action—to seek administrative review. They may not file a lawsuit.
In the instance where the FCHR does not issue any determination within 180 days, the FCHR must “promptly notify” the employee that it has failed to issue a determination within the 180-day period. Then, the employee has one year from the date when the notice is mailed to the employee.
Additionally, the amendment does not appear to apply retrospectively, so any Charges filed before the date of the amendment would fall under the four-year time limitation set in the Joshua case.
It is important to note that this amendment does not, in any way, affect the 90-day federal time period applicable for federal discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims. Accordingly, if the Charging Party dual files with the FCHR and the EEOC, they must remain mindful of the differing time limitations for filing suit.
While the clarity on the time limitations issue may be beneficial to all parties, employers clearly stand to benefit most from the amendment, due to the shortened statute of limitations period.