Jay Brome began his employment at the California Highway Patrol in 1996. During his nearly 20-year career he was openly gay. He claims that other officers subjected him to derogatory, homophobic comments; singled him out for pranks; repeatedly defaced his mailbox; and refused to provide him with backup assistance during enforcement stops in the field.
As a result, Brome feared for his life during enforcement stops, experienced headaches, muscle pain, stomach issues, anxiety and stress, and became suicidal by early 2015. In January 2015, he went on medical leave and filed a workers’ compensation claim based on work-related stress.
Brome’s workers’ compensation claim was resolved in his favor on October 27, 2015. He took industrial disability retirement on February 29, 2016, ending his employment with the Patrol.
On September 15, 2016, Brome filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. He filed a lawsuit the next day, asserting four claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act for the conduct he alleged in his workers’ compensation claim.
The CHP sought summary judgment, contending Brome’s claims were untimely because he did not file his administrative complaint within one year of the challenged actions, as required under former section 12960, subdivision (d).
However, because the crux of his case concerns circumstances that occurred before his medical leave began in January 2015, he asserted that exceptions to the one-year deadline were applicable. He argued that the filing of his workers’ compensation claim should stop the clock on his one-year filing deadline during the pendency of his compensation claim. The legal doctrine is known as “equitable tolling.”
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Patrol, holding that Brome’s claims were filed after the statute of limitations expired and a reasonable jury could not have concluded they were timely based on an exception to the deadline.
The Court of Appeal reversed in the published case of Brome v California Highway Patrol.
The equitable tolling doctrine operates to suspend or extend a statute of limitations as necessary to ensure fundamental practicality and fairness. In the case of McDonald v. Antelope Valley Community College Dist. (2008) 45 Cal.4th 88, the California Supreme Court held that the deadline for filing an administrative claim under the Act could be tolled while a plaintiff is voluntarily pursuing alternate remedies.
The time for filing a claim pursuant to the Act may be tolled where the plaintiff can establish three elements: timely notice, and lack of prejudice, to the defendant, and reasonable and good faith conduct on the part of the plaintiff.
It will be the jury’s job to reconcile the evidence at trial, and summary judgment was not justified.