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  Employment – Discrimination Officer waited too long to assert Rehab Act claims

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//December 26, 2018

  Employment – Discrimination Officer waited too long to assert Rehab Act claims

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//December 26, 2018


 The dismissal of a parole officer’s discrimination claims was upheld, because they were filed under the Rehabilitation Act, which is governed by the two-year statute of limitations in the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act rather than Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations for civil actions.




Rennae Elizabeth Ott worked for Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services as a parole officer. In 2010, she learned that a pediatrician had molested her daughter, causing Ott to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety. Her difficulties forced her to take medical leave and to transfer to a different location.


Ott says that one of her co-workers learned of the molestation and began to harass Ott about her daughter and Ott’s mental health. The harassment continued for a year and took various forms, all ignored by the department. Ott’s PTSD and anxiety worsened, her performance deteriorated and DPSCS forced her to resign on March 6, 2014.


Ott filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Eventually the agency found reasonable cause for Ott’s claims and referred them to the Department of Justice. On July 26, 2016, the DOJ issued Ott a right to sue notice.


Ott filed her complaint in this case on Oct. 10, 2016, asserting claims arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The district court applied the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act’s two-year statute of limitations to Ott’s Rehabilitation Act claims, refused to toll her time to sue and dismissed her complaint.




Ott argues that Maryland’s general three-year statute of limitations governing civil actions applies to her Rehabilitation Act claims. When a federal statute, like the Rehabilitation Act, does not set forth a statute of limitations, federal courts “borrow the state statute of limitations that applies to the most analogous state-law claim.”


In the past, Maryland had no analogue to the Rehabilitation Act, so we applied Maryland’s general civil three-year statute of limitations to Rehabilitation Act claims. Amendments to the MFEPA, however, now make it an appropriate analogous statute to provide the statute of limitations for Rehabilitation Act claims.


Ott alleges employment disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act. The MFEPA, as amended in 2007 and 2009, provides a right of action for the employment practices Ott cites in her complaint, including retaliation and failure to accommodate. The MFEPA, therefore, is the most analogous Maryland cause of action to Ott’s Rehabilitation Act claims, and its two-year statute of limitations governs her case.


Ott’s allegations of wrongful conduct end with her resignation on March 6, 2014. She filed her complaint on Oct. 10, 2016, outside the two-year period. Accordingly, the district court properly dismissed Ott’s Rehabilitation Act claims as time-barred.


Ott argues we should apply equitable tolling to save her Rehabilitation Act claims from dismissal. Ott claims that she did not, and could not, know that the MFEPA would supply the statute of limitations for her claims. However, a party’s “misconception about the operation of the statute of limitations is neither extraordinary nor a circumstance external to [her] control.” Ignorance of the law does not justify tolling, even when a party does not have legal representation. Similarly, an attorney’s mistake in interpreting a statute does not amount to an extraordinary circumstance. In sum, Ott fails to meet the high bar for equitable tolling. The district court did not err by declining to apply equitable tolling to her case.




Ott v. Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-175-18, 10 pp.) (John Gibney, J.) Case No. 17-2047. Nov. 28, 2018. From D.Md. (Bennett, J.) Robin Ringgold Cockey for Appellant, Lisa O’Mara Arnquist for Appellee.


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