If you've experienced sexual harassment in Seattle, you currently have less than six months—180 days—to file a complaint with the city.
But in a unanimous decision Monday, Seattle council members extended the city's statute of limitations to file a harassment claim. The change to the law also explicitly names "racial and sexual harassment" as a form of discrimination.
Employment and contracting discrimination complaints now have a deadline of one and a half years since the alleged practice. Discrimination in public accommodations are now one year, matching the amount of time someone has to file a housing discrimination complaint.
"Even when people are aware that they're experiencing sexual harassment, they often don't know what recourse is available to them," said council member Lisa Herbold, who took on the legislation after a female constituent called her office to bring attention to the short time limit. "There are lots of good reasons people don't come forward right away," such as shame or fear of reprisal.
Herbold said the woman who called her office wanted to report an incident of sexual harassment on her college campus, but had been passed around from department to department. By the time she got referred to the right place (the Seattle Office of Civil Rights), her statute of limitations had passed.
Other members of the audience in the chambers included women who were part of the Seattle Silence Breakers. Co-chair and longtime Seattle City Light employee Denise Krownbell urged the city to act with urgency against the behavior reported at City Light and said "we have to stop it here," in liberal Seattle, for change to happen anywhere else.
Herbold said Mayor Jenny Durkan "has been working diligently" to address problems, namely with an employee climate survey and a human resource review of internal city policies.
Herbold announced her plan to change the statute during a national reckoning around sexual harassment and assault in January. The legislation eventually also included racial harassment as part of the changes, reflecting concerns that the bill would ignore other aspects of harassment that could be just as difficult to report.
The Seattle Office of Civil Rights only deals with civil cases; assault would be a criminal case. On the state level, an effort in the Legislature to remove the statute of limitations on rape and other criminal sex offenses died in February.