Unlike the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 28-5-1 et seq., (“FEPA”), which expressly provides for a one-year statute of limitations, the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act, R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 42-112-1 et seq., (“RICRA”) includes no express limitations period. In Horn v. Southern Union Co., 927 A.2d 292 (R.I. 2007), the Rhode Island Supreme Court was faced with the question whether, as NELF and its co-amicus Defense Counsel of Rhode Island argued, employment discrimination claims under RICRA should also be governed by a one-year limitations period or whether they should instead be governed by Rhode Island’s residual three-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions.
In a decision rendered on June 27, 2007, the majority of the Court agreed with NELF that FEPA and RICRA are in pari materia with respect to employment discrimination claims—i.e., that they address the same subject and, hence, must be harmonized by “engrafting onto the RICRA the one-year statute of limitations contained in the FEPA.” The Court found, as NELF had argued, that setting a three-year limitations period for RICRA employment discrimination claims would effectively repeal FEPA’s protection of employers from stale claims, since plaintiffs could obtain the same remedy without the burden of the one-year limitations period by proceeding under RICRA. As NELF explained in its amicus brief, requiring claims to be brought promptly is especially important in the employment discrimination area because those claims are often based on alleged oral communications, memories of which can quickly fade, and because witnesses can readily become unavailable given today’s high worker turnover. Dissenting Justices Suttell and Flaherty, who would have applied the three-year statute of limitations, faulted the majority for fashioning a special limitations period under RICRA limited to employment discrimination claims.