March 28, 2019

House passes two bills recommended by sexual harassment commission

STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives this week passed two bills recommended by a House commission that studied sexual harassment and discrimination laws last year.

The bills, which both provide more time for victims to report abuse, are the first of the bills recommended by the commission to pass the House. The two sponsors, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Rep. Evan P. Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick), were both members of the commission, along with the commission’s chairwoman, Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), and Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick).

On Wednesday the House passed legislation (2019-H 5341) sponsored by Representative Shanley to extend the timeframe 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. 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. We hope this will enable more victims to seek the justice they deserve,” said Representative Shanley.

Today the House approved legislation (2019-H 5340) sponsored by Representative McEntee to 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 the matter of 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. 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,” said Representative McEntee.

Both bills now go to the Senate.

Representative 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. Through these two measures, we are providing Rhode Islanders better opportunities to take action to seek justice. 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,” said Representative Tanzi.