Generally an employee has 180 days (300 days if there is a corresponding state agency enforcing the same Title VII rights) from the date of discriminatory or retaliatory act to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discrimination under Title VII. The 300 day deadline also applies when an employee has been terminated, in which case, and employee has 300 days from the date of termination to file a claim with the EEOC. (If the claim is under the Equal Pay Act, the statue of limitations is 2 years, and if the violation is willful, 3 years).
If an employee misses the 300 day deadline, you are pretty much out of luck. At that time, the only option is to allege equitable tolling or equitable estoppel.
Equitable Tolling focus on the employees ignorance, and not on the employers misconduct. The central question to ask under equitable tolling is, if a reasonable person in the employees shoes would be aware that his/her rights have been violated. If the answer is yes, then equitable tolling does not apply, and the employee would have needed to file the claim within 300 days.
Equitable Estoppel on the other hand, focus on the employers misconduct. Consequently, the 300 day limitations period will not be modified on the basis of equitable estoppel unless the employee’s failure to file in timely fashion is the consequence of either a deliberate design by the employer or of actions that the employer should unmistakably have understood would cause the employee to delay filing his charge. This equitable doctrine presupposes the plaintiff’s knowledge of the facts underlying his or her cause of action. Equitable estoppel is invoked in cases where the plaintiff knew of the existence of his cause of action but the defendant’s conduct caused him to delay bringing his lawsuit. See Dring v. McDonnel Douglas Corp, 58 F.3d 1323 (8th Cir. 1995).