The United States Supreme Court ruled today in a unanimous decision in Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, that the Title VII EEOC requirement set forth at 42 U.S.C. §2000e(5)(1), (f) (1), that a plaintiff first file a charge of discrimination before commencing litigation is not a “jurisdictional” barrier to bringing suit. Therefore, when plaintiffs have not complied with this requirement and defendant(s) have not timely objected, a discrimination case can proceed into further litigation in court.
The Charge Filing Obligation is Still Mandatory
Despite this ruling, defendants can still file timely objections to a charge and require a plaintiff to exhaust the charge-filing administrative remedies before initiating litigation. However, because this requirement is not jurisdictional this objection cannot be raised at any time in the litigation.
Therefore, plaintiffs raising discrimination or retaliation claims under Title VII should still follow the requirement to file a charge and allow the EEOC or state agency to investigate the charge and make a preliminary determination before litigation. This will either involve a determination that there is “probable cause” to believe that discrimination has occurred, or a finding that probable cause is not present, and the subsequent issuance of a “right-to-sue” notice.
Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also prohibits retaliation for either internally reporting such discrimination, supporting the claims of others, or participating in any investigation of such discrimination.
Individuals who have experienced discrimination in the workplace must be aware that the deadline (called the “statute of limitations) for filing a charge is either 180 days from the alleged unlawful employment practice, or 300 days when this act occurs in a state which also has its own fair employment agency (which covers most states). This includes allegations of sexual harassment, which is a form of sex discrimination, or violations of the anti-retaliation described above. Therefore, you need to act quickly to assert your rights when you have been subject to discrimination or retaliation.
The Impact of the Supreme Court Ruling
There are often occasions when a current employee brings a discrimination claim with the state or local agency, and later suffers additional discrimination not described in the initial charge. That was the case for the Respondent Viola Davis in the Fort Bend case. She was fired after her initial sexual harassment and retaliation charge, under circumstances which gave rise to a religious discrimination claim. She didn’t formally amend her charge to add this claim. She was nonetheless permitted to proceed to litigate the religious discrimination claim despite not exhausting the agency-filing requirement because the Petitioner hadn’t made a timely objection. Petitioner argued that because the charge filing requirement was jurisdictional, this objection could be raised at any time in the litigation. The Supreme Court disagreed.
Therefore, there may be circumstances where a plaintiff has raised claims in litigation not described or included in the initial charge. When this happens, and defendant hasn’t timely objected (usually in raising initial defenses in the Answer), the Fort Bend decision requires that these claims be allowed to proceed.
Experienced Lawyers Will Know of This EEOC Development
Experienced legal counsel understand how to not only exhaust the required charge filing process, but take advantage of the non-jurisdictional nature of this requirement to proceed with claims which might otherwise be subject to dismissal.
The discrimination lawyers at Schaefer Halleen are available for a free consultation to assist you in determining whether you have a timely claim of discrimination or retaliation, and to prosecute any such claim into litigation, if necessary.