Surviving limitations challenge, workplace suit fails on substance.


Byline: Barry Bridges

Although a plaintiff who mounted an action against her former employer for violations of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and the Rhode Island Whistleblowers' Protection Act met the limitations deadline by a hair, a federal judge has nevertheless dismissed her suit for failing to plead facts sufficient to support her claims.

Plaintiff Sheryl Cohen, who formerly worked as an executive assistant at FGX International, tendered her purported two-week resignation note on July 1, 2014. She abruptly left her job on July 8 and filed suit on July 10, 2017.

The threshold issue before U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith was the point at which the three-year statute of limitations began to run: on the date Cohen gave notice or on the date of her departure.

With evidence that her note was not "accepted or relied upon" by her employer as a true resignation, Smith concluded that the clock began ticking on the later date, making her action "barely" timely (with the deadline extended as the last day of the period fell on a Saturday).

Ultimately, however, the plaintiff's suit citing a hostile work environment and constructive discharge did not state a claim under RICRA.

"Cohen's well-pled allegations even if true and considered as a whole are simply too episodic or benign to plausibly suggest that FGX's work environment was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult," Smith wrote.

Similarly holding that the plaintiff did not put forth sufficient facts to support a whistleblower action under RIWPA, Smith granted the defendants' motion to dismiss.

The 22-page decision is Cohen v. FGX International Inc., et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 52-073-19. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

Counsel for the plaintiff was Charles S. Kirwan of Providence. Hinckley Allen lawyers Christina L. Lewis and Thomas J. Pagliarini represented the defendants. The attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

But the limitations aspect of the holding caught the attention of Cranston employment attorney Thomas J. Enright.

"Often, practitioners will look to the date of termination or resignation to calculate the date by which the claim must be filed," Enright said. "But this decision highlights that a deeper analysis is required."

For instance, he said, one issue is whether a resignation is capable of rescission. In the instant case, the employee tendered her resignation with the hope and expectation that the employer...

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