Rejecting NELF’s call for consistency in Rhode Island employment discrimination cases, the First Circuit applied a three-year personal injury statute of limitations to employment discrimination claims under the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act, rather than the one-year statute under the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act. Plaintiff Betsey Rathbun was an employee of AutoZone, which promoted three men to a management position before promoting her and hired or promoted three other men to higher management positions. AutoZone asserted that all six men had superior qualifications to Rathbun. She sued for employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, which has no specific statute of limitations, and the Fair Employment Act, which has a one-year statute.
NELF submitted a brief supporting AutoZone, arguing that the Civil Rights Act claim primarily supplemented the employment discrimination case under the Fair Employment Act and thus the Fair Employment Act one-year statue should apply to employment-based Civil Rights Act claims. While the First Circuit considered NELF’s arguments carefully, the Court was ultimately persuaded that the federal model for the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, utilizes the general personal injury statute of limitations and that uniform interpretation of the Civil Rights Act required a single limitations period, not variable periods depending on whether alleged discrimination occurred in the employment context or elsewhere, as in education or housing.