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May 01, 2013

A contract of employment may shorten the controlling statute of limitations available to the employee with respect to his or her suing the employer if not unreasonable or “the product of overreaching”


A contract of employment may shorten the controlling statute of limitations available to the employee with respect to his or her suing the employer if not unreasonable or “the product of overreaching”
Hunt v Raymour & Flanigan, 2013 NY Slip Op 02715, Appellate Division, Second Department

Although contracts of employment are the exception with respect to most employments in the public sector, the decision by the Appellate Division in Hunt v Raymour and Flanigan, a decision involving a lawsuit between a former employer in the private section and its former employee, may be worthy of note by some public employers.

Thomas Huntsigned an application for employment with Raymour & Flanigan (R & F) that included a clause providing that "any claim or lawsuit relating to [his] service with [R & F] must be filed no more than six (6) months after the date of the employment action that is the subject of the claim or lawsuit." The employment application also stated that Hunt “agreed that he waived any statute of limitations to the contrary.”

Hunt was terminated by R & F some three years later. More than six months after his employment was terminated, Hunt sued R & F and one of R & F’s vice presidents seeking to recover damages based on alleged “employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of Executive Law §296 and [the] Administrative Code of the City of New York §8-107.”

Supreme Court denied R & F motion to dismiss the first and second causes of action asserted by Hunt against R & F in the action he had filed against it and R & F filed a notice of appeal challenging this aspect of Supreme Court's ruling *

Considering R & F’s appeal, the Appellate Division explained that when reviewing a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to CPLR §3211(a)(1), "dismissal is warranted only if the documentary evidence submitted conclusively establishes a defense to the asserted claims as a matter of law." In this instance, said the court, R & F submitted documentary evidence in the form of the employment application, which demonstrated that Hunt contractually agreed to commence any claim or lawsuit against R & F no more than six months after the date of the employment action that was the subject of the claim or lawsuit.

Significantly, the court stated that "The parties to a contract may agree to limit the period of time within which an action must be commenced to a period shorter than that provided by the applicable statute of limitations [and] [a]bsent proof that the contract is one of adhesion or the product of overreaching, or that [the] altered period is unreasonably short, the abbreviated period of limitation will be enforced" by the courts.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that Hunt’s arguments that the shortened limitations period set forth in the employment application was not applicable or was unenforceable were without merit. Thus, as Hunt commenced this action more than six months after the date on which his employment terminated, his first and second causes of action insofar as asserted against R & F should have been dismissed by Supreme Court pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1).

* The Appellate Division noted that “R & F's contentions on appeal that the third and fourth causes of action should have been dismissed [by Supreme Court] are not properly before this Court.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_02715.htm

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