Seattle's anti-discrimination laws allow people up to 180 days to file a complaint against their employer. That statute of limitations would increase under a new Seattle City Council proposal, introduced this week.
The statute of limitations for workplace-discrimination complaints is about six months at the city, state and federal levels. The six-month timer starts when the alleged harassment occurs.
The Seattle proposal would give people 18 months to file complaints with the city about unfair labor or contracting practices, as well as workplace harassment.
Advocates for the change say victims need a longer timeframe to process what happened and decide what to do. Alicia Glenwell of the Seattle-based Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence spoke with council members this week.
"Harassment undermines self-esteem, self-confidence," Glenwell said. "There's often a sense of guilt or shame. It can be really confusing to know what's happening, and then know what they should or want to do about it."
Nationwide, about 60 percent of women say they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and most cases are never reported. That's according to a 2016 study from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. About 20 percent of respondents with disabilities reported experiencing harassment or unfair treatment in the workplace.
City council member Lisa Herbold is sponsoring the bill to extend the statute of limitations. She said she hopes it will encourage more people to file claims about discrimination or harassment at work.
Herbold's bill would also extend the time limit to file public accommodation complaints, such as not being allowed to access a public building or a store. That time limit would be lengthened from six months to one year.
She said a constituent brought the issue came to her attention.
"She was experiencing sexual harassment on her campus," Herbold said. "She had been referred from place to place, and when she was finally referred to the Office of Civil Rights, the current statute of limitations had expired."
Herbold and Seattle's Office of Civil Rights are working on the bill, which could be voted on for the first time in March.