The Complete Primer on §1981 Statute of Limitations Law
by Michael Fox
Early this year the Supreme Court held that under §1981, the federal four year statute of limitations applied rather than the applicable state statute of limitations. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 24 S. Ct. 1836 (2004). Or that at least was the general take on the Donnelley case. However, as Cross v. Home Depot (10th Cir. 12/8/04) [pdf] shows, it is a little more precise than that.
Cross's §1981 claim was his failure to be promoted from Assistant Store Manager to Store Manager. Although a four year statute would be applicable to any §1981 claim that would not have been actionable before Congressional amendments to §1981 in 1991, if the claim would have been actionable before the amendment, then the state's residual statute of limitations (here 2 years) would be applicable.
As a result Home Depot argued that the promotion from assistant store manager to store manager was so substantial that it rose to the "level of an opportunity for a new and distinct relation between the employee and the employer" which would have been actionable before the amendments, and thus governed by the 2 year statute of limitations. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to Home Depot when Cross failed to point out any evidence to support his argument that "8 store managers positions were filled in Colorado" during the 2 year time period considered by the trial court.
Unfortunately, on appeal, the 10th Circuit reversed the lower court's ruling that a promotion from Assistant to Store Manager would have been sufficient to create a new relationship which means that the four year statute was applicable. So the Court reversed and remanded. However, in a final twist, even though it conceded that Cross's failure to point out the evidence of promotions in the 2 years period that were considered was a mistake, it refused to reverse the summary judgment. On remand, Cross is limited to showing he was denied a promotion only in the first two years covered by the expanded four year period.