In Coleman v. Columbus State Community College, No. 15AP-119 (10th Dist. Nov. 12, 2015), Belinda J. Coleman brought a lawsuit against Columbus State for discriminating against her because of her disability and under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Ms. Coleman suffered from fibromyalgia and polymyalgia rheumatic and argued that Columbus State harassed her, retaliated against her, and fired her for her disability. Ms. Coleman ultimately filed an action against Columbus State in the Court of Claims and Columbus State filed a motion to dismiss in the trial court arguing the claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations as set forth in R.C. 2743.16(A), which allows for certain actions against the State of Ohio to be commenced no later than two years after the date of accrual of the cause of action. Ms. Coleman argued that the trial court should apply the 3-year statute of limitations for willful violations of the FMLA the 90 day statute of limitations under the ADA after the EEOC dismisses a charge. In addition, Ms. Coleman argued that the court should apply the doctrine of equitable tolling to her claims for her intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and state law discrimination claims.
Ms. Coleman argued that R.C. 2743.16(A) was inapplicable to the ADA and the FMLA because the Supremacy Clause of the “mandates that federal law governs when litigants must file those claims, and that a state cannot alter the substantive features of claims established under federal law, including the applicable statutes of limitations.” In other words, Ms. Coleman argued that the federal limitation periods to her federal claims superseded those set by Ohio Law.
The Tenth District was unconvinced, stating that “the Supremacy Clause does not confer authority upon Congress to abrogate a state's immunity from suit in its own court without its consent,” and that the State of Ohio has not consented to being subjected to the federal limitations periods for the ADA and FLMA. “[T]his court has consistently found that litigants cannot pursue claims against the state more than two years after the claim accrued ... Because federal law does not preempt or abrogate R.C. 2743.16(A) 's two-year filing requirement as to Coleman's FMLA and ADA claims, the trial court properly concluded Coleman's federal claims were untimely.”
Addressing Ms. Coleman’s equitable tolling argument, the Tenth District noted that “[t]he doctrine is generally limited to circumstances in which an employee is intentionally misled or tricked into missing the filing deadline,” and here no exceptional circumstance warranted equitable tolling.
This case underscores that Employees must pay particular attention to the Statute of Limitations in all contexts including when pursuing claims against the State. While Ms. Coleman, as she argued, was a victim of discrimination and retaliation, her failure to timely assert her rights as required under the Ohio Revised Code ultimately rendered her claims unattainable. The bottom line, Plaintiffs must be swift to assert their rights and remember that sometimes the nature of the Defendants, not the claims themselves, is determinative when deciding when to file suit.
Are you a victim of discrimination or retaliation under the ADA, FMLA, or other State or Federal law at your place of employment? Kevin M. McDermott II can help. Call (216) 367-9181. I charge nothing for the opportunity to meet you and hear your story.