Local legislators last week passed a pair of bills that would give victims of sexual harassment more time to report the abuse.
The bills passed by the House of Representatives were recommended by a House commission that studied sexual harassment and discrimination laws last year.
Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-South Kingstown, Narragansett was one of the sponsors. McEntee also serves on the commission with chairwoman Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-South Kingstown, Narragansett.
The bill sponsored by McEntee would exclude the period of investigation of a discrimination case by the Human Rights Commission from counting toward the legal statute of limitations on any other legal notice, claim or lawsuit concerning a complaint.
“Filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission is a good first step for anyone who believes he or she has been discriminated against,” McEntee said. “But doing so shouldn’t have any negative effect on the victim’s ability to pursue all other available legal courses of action. This legislation allows that process to run its course before the clock starts ticking on the statute of limitations for victims to pursue justice in Superior Court.”
A second bill, sponsored by Rep. Evan P. Shanley, D-Warwick, extends the time frame within which a person can file a complaint about an alleged unlawful employment practice with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights from one year to two years.
“People who suffer discrimination or harassment often don’t report it immediately,” Shanley said. “Sometimes they have no idea who to tell, or that there is a commission that handles these matters in Rhode Island, or sometimes they struggle to get the courage to tell anyone at all. Victims deserve more than a 12-month window to start the process.”
Both bills now go to the Senate.
Tanzi, who as chairwoman of the commission cosponsored both bills, thanked the House Labor Committee for its support of the bills and said they are both aimed at better ensuring that justice is served in matters of harassment or discrimination.
“I think this is important recognition that matters of discrimination are complicated and often intersectional, and that victims don’t always immediately recognize that they are being discriminated against or know what to do about it,” Tanzi said. “Although these changes are a small part of far greater change that must occur, it’s our hope that strengthening the process for complaints will also ultimately contribute to reducing the frequency of harassment and discrimination overall.”