Sexual Harassment Statute of Limitations in California

February 29, 2024

California law has significantly extended the statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims to three years. This change aims to give victims more time to seek justice, reflecting a progressive approach towards supporting those affected by workplace harassment.

This article explores the implications of this extended filing period, key exceptions, and the accountability it places on employers to maintain a harassment-free work environment.

Key Points

  • Extended Filing Period: California law now permits a three-year period for filing sexual harassment claims, a significant extension from the previous one-year limit. This enables victims to seek justice within a more reasonable timeframe.
  • Important Exceptions: The general three-year statute of limitations has notable exceptions, such as a six-month deadline for claims against government entities and specific provisions for sexual abuse survivors.
  • Employer Accountability: California employers bear substantial responsibility for preventing and addressing sexual harassment within their organizations. They are liable for actions taken by supervisors and, under certain conditions, by coworkers. This includes mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for workplaces with five or more employees.
  • Protection from Retaliation: Victims reporting sexual harassment are legally protected from retaliation so that they can pursue their claims without fear of adverse consequences in their workplace.
  • Legal Representation and Support: Seeking guidance from an experienced sexual harassment lawyer is crucial for navigating the legal system, understanding victim rights, and effectively handling a claim or lawsuit.

Detailed Overview of California's Sexual Harassment Statute of Limitations

In California, the window to file a sexual harassment claim is three years from the date of the most recent incident. This extension marks a significant improvement in supporting victims. However, for incidents before January 2020, the previous one-year limit may still apply. In some cases, there may be exceptions that can further extend this period.

Assembly Bill 9 and Its Implications

Before Assembly Bill 9 (AB-9), victims of sexual harassment had only one year from the end of the harassing behavior to file a claim. This short period often made it difficult for those affected to process what happened and prepare for legal action.

However, AB-9 has significantly changed this by extending the three-year deadline. This longer timeframe gives victims a better chance to seek justice. It's important to note that this extension doesn't apply to claims already out of time under the old one-year limit.

Exceptions and Special Circumstances

While the general statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims in California is three years, exceptions and special circumstances might alter this timeframe. These include:

  • Claims Against Government Entities: These must be filed within six months of the incident.
  • Sexual Abuse Survivors: Different rules may apply to survivors of sexual abuse, potentially offering extended timeframes.
  • Minors: If the victim is a minor, the statute of limitations may be extended until the victim reaches the age of majority or for a period thereafter, depending on specific state provisions.
  • Delayed Discovery: In some cases, if a victim did not realize they were harassed until later, the statute might be extended to allow filing within a reasonable time after the discovery.
  • Ongoing Harassment: If the harassment continues over a period, the timeline might only start after the last incident.

Types of Sexual Harassment Covered Under the Statute

Sexual harassment in California is generally classified into two main types: quid pro quo and hostile work environments.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor or authority figure demands sexual favors in exchange for job benefits or threatens negative consequences if the favors are not provided. This type of harassment directly links job perks to an employee’s compliance with sexual advances.

For example, a supervisor might offer a promotion or raise in return for sexual favors or threaten demotion or job loss if the employee refuses. The legitimacy of a quid pro quo harassment claim is established when the supervisor acts on these threats or promises.

Hostile Work Environment Harassment

This form of harassment involves unwelcome sexual behavior that significantly disrupts an employee's work environment, making it intimidating or abusive. Unlike quid pro quo, it does not involve an exchange of favors but focuses on creating an offensive and hostile atmosphere.

Actions that might contribute to such an environment include repeated derogatory comments, sexually explicit jokes, sexually degrading words being used during an email, or pervasive unwanted physical contact.

Depending on the specifics, even a single severe incident can be enough to create a hostile work environment. This type of harassment can affect the direct target and other employees who witness the behavior.

Both forms of harassment are covered under California’s sexual harassment laws, and victims must recognize the distinctions to address and report the misconduct effectively.

Employees exposed to sexual innuendos and inappropriate conduct may not realize that these experiences can legally constitute a hostile work environment. Determining when this environment began is key to a claim since the three-year statute of limitations for filing claims starts from that point. An employment attorney can determine these details and help you work through the legal process to be sure you are reporting within the timelines of the statute of limitations and that your rights are fully protected.

Reporting Sexual Harassment in California

If you've experienced quid pro quo or hostile work environment harassment, you should report it promptly. In California, victims should first inform their organization about the incident and then file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department or the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within three years of the harassment.

After you submit a sexual harassment complaint, you can either seek a formal investigation or ask for a right-to-sue letter to pursue a civil lawsuit. Once you receive this letter, you have an additional year to file a private lawsuit against your employer based on your workplace sexual harassment claim.

Hiring an experienced sexual harassment attorney can help you understand your rights, meet all deadlines, and provide the best chance of a successful claim.

Employer's Responsibility and Liability

In California, employers have significant responsibilities regarding preventing sexual harassment in their organizations. They are immediately liable for any harassment perpetrated by supervisors. They may also be held responsible for coworker harassment if they knew or should have known about the potential for such behavior.

Organizations with five or more employees must provide sexual harassment prevention training and share a clear policy on reporting harassment. The legal updates in 2018 further expanded employer duties to include dealing with harassment by non-employees. Employers are required to take appropriate actions to resolve sexual harassment complaints and protect employees from any retaliation after they report an incident.

Knowing the responsibilities of employers along with the laws that protect them can help victims feel more confident in coming forward.

Protecting Yourself from Retaliation

Many victims hesitate to report sexual harassment due to the fear of retaliation and because of this miss the chance to file a claim within the statute of limitations. In California, employees are legally protected from retaliation under federal and state laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) which are designed to report sexual harassment without fear of reprisal.

Examples of employer retaliation include:

  • Unfair disciplinary actions
  • Negative performance reviews
  • Denial of promotions
  • Micromanaging
  • Exclusion from meetings or training opportunities

If you face any retaliation after reporting sexual harassment, you may be able to take legal action against your employer.

Damages and Compensation in Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

In California, if you win a sexual harassment lawsuit, you may be eligible for compensation that covers:

  • Lost wages: This includes any salary or benefits you lost due to the harassment.
  • Medical expenses: Costs for any medical care required because of the harassment.
  • Emotional distress: Compensation for pain, suffering, stress, and mental anguish resulting from the harassment.
  • Potentially punitive damages: These may be awarded if the employer's behavior was particularly malicious or oppressive. They serve to punish the employer and deter similar conduct in the future.

Additional types of compensation may include:

  • Economic damages: Covering financial losses such as lost promotions and other job benefits.
  • Retaliation damages: If you faced retaliation after filing your claim, and it was made in good faith.
  • Legal fees and costs: Awarded if you prevail in the lawsuit.

Seeking Legal Advice for California Sexual Harassment Claims

For those who experience sexual harassment, understanding the intricate laws and procedures without help can be overwhelming. An experienced sexual harassment lawyer can guide victims through this process. Sexual harassment lawyers assist with the following:

  • Filing claims on time, before the statute of limitations expires.
  • Managing the case for the victim relieves them of the burden of confronting the legal process directly.
  • Assessing the strength of a case, determining its potential success in court.

An attorney’s deep understanding of sexual harassment law is indispensable in helping victims seek justice and secure compensation effectively. Engaging a lawyer not only aids in legal proceedings but also ensures the proper collection and handling of evidence, which is vital for the case's success.

Protecting Your Civil Lawsuit

Preserving evidence is one of the most important parts of building a strong sexual harassment case. Here are practical steps to help you collect and maintain important evidence:

  • Maintain a detailed journal: Record every incident of harassment, noting the dates, times, and specific details.
  • Save communications: Keep all relevant texts, emails, and notes that pertain to the harassment.
  • Secure digital evidence: Take screenshots and make copies of any relevant online or digital interactions.
  • Hold onto physical items: Keep any physical items related to the case, such as letters or gifts, which might serve as evidence.


  • Collect testimonies: Gather statements from friends, family, or therapists who are aware of the harassment and its effects.
  • Preserve related physical items: If specific clothing or objects were involved in an incident, keep these items safe.

To safeguard your case:

  • Avoid public discussion: Do not talk about the case on social media.
  • Be cautious with recordings: Refrain from recording conversations without consent, as this could lead to legal issues and the potential exclusion of this evidence in court.

These guidelines will strengthen your claim and increase your chances of success.


California has made significant strides in protecting sexual harassment victims, extending the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims, and making critical amendments to hold employers accountable for workplace harassment.

If you've been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, don't face this challenging situation alone. Choosing the right attorney can make or break your case. Contact the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak today. Our experienced team is committed to helping you understand your rights and ensuring your case is handled with the urgency and attention it deserves. Take the first step towards protecting yourself and your career—reach out for a consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the statute of limitations for a sexual harassment claim in California?

In California, the statute of limitations for sexual harassment is generally three years from the last incident, although there are exceptions and special circumstances to consider.

What are the types of sexual harassment covered under the statute in California?

In California, the types of sexual harassment covered under the statute include quid pro quo and hostile work environment harassment. These are the two major types of sexual harassment recognized under California's statute.

How can a victim report sexual harassment in California?

Victims of sexual harassment in California can report the incident within their organization and file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department or Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within three years. An attorney can handle this process for you.

What damages can a victim recover in a sexual harassment lawsuit in California?

Victims of sexual harassment in California can potentially recover damages for lost wages, medical expenses, emotional distress, and punitive damages. If they win the lawsuit, they may also be compensated for retaliation, attorney’s fees, and costs.

How can a victim protect themselves from retaliation after reporting sexual harassment?

When you report sexual harassment, it's important to monitor any subsequent changes in your workplace treatment. If you experience retaliation, contact an employment lawyer promptly. Your attorney can guide you in documenting retaliatory actions and advise on legal strategies to challenge them. An attorney will defend your rights and that your workplace adheres to its legal responsibilities.

What Legal Options Are Available for Sexual Assault Victims in California?

Sexual assault victims in California have several legal avenues to consider when seeking justice. They may be able to file a personal injury claim against the perpetrator, covering damages such as medical expenses, emotional distress, and lost wages. Additionally, sexual assault cases may involve criminal charges, providing another layer of legal recourse.




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