The Employer's Legal Resource: Supreme Court Holds Title VII Charge-Filing is Not Jurisdictional
On June 3, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion on an issue that has been both unsettled and a favorite argument of employers, until now.
As you know, employees are required to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prior to filing a lawsuit claiming violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is also true of claims of retaliation prohibited by Title VII (as well as claims under certain other federal anti-discrimination laws).
In "deferral states" such as Oklahoma, a person has 300 days from the complained-of act in which to file a charge of discrimination. Once the EEOC has concluded its handling of the charge, it issues a Right to Sue letter advising the charging party he has 90 days in which to file a lawsuit as to the violations raised in that charge.
Generally speaking, a person is supposed to sue based upon the matters raised in the charge. That person is not allowed to bring a discrimination lawsuit upon allegations not previously presented to the EEOC.
Employers have, somewhat successfully, maintained that this requirement was "jurisdictional" meaning an employer could raise it at any time. For example, if the employer realized it later in the case, the employer could move to strike a claim arguing the person had not properly raised it in his charge before the EEOC.
Now, the issue has been resolved. The Supreme Court has held: "In sum, a rule may be mandatory without being jurisdictional, and Title VII's charge-filing requirement fits that bill."
Bottom line. Charging parties must clearly state in their charge before the EEOC all allegations and legal theories they wish to raise. And, now, employers must clearly state in their answers to lawsuits (or motions to dismiss) any defense that the charging party did not properly raise a claim before the EEOC.
Fort Bend Cty, Tex v. Davis, 587 U.S. ___ (2019).
By Kristen L. Brightmire, firstname.lastname@example.org