SCOTUS Finds Leniency in Exhausting EEOC Administrative Filing Requirements

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SCOTUS Finds Leniency in Exhausting EEOC Administrative Filing Requirements

SCOTUS Finds Leniency in Exhausting EEOC Administrative Filing Requirements

By: Aimee Christianson and Shaloni Pinto

 {Read in 4 minutes}  On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court released their decision in the case Fort Bend County v. Davis [No. 18-125], which involves Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claim filing disagreements. This case involves Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a potential complainant’s administrative requirements with the EEOC.

Ms. Davis, a victim of alleged sexual harassment, retaliation and religious discrimination, filed a charge with the EEOC in a timely fashion. She formally filed a complaint referring to the alleged sexual harassment, and later included a handwritten additional allegation of religious discrimination on the EEOC’s questionnaire. When brought to the courtroom, her former employer sought to dismiss the case regarding religion, because Ms. Davis had not formally amended her initial EEOC complaint to include a claim of religious discrimination.

This issue finds home in questions regarding required actions in legal matters. Some rules, called jurisdictional requirements, describe the types of cases a court may hear or who the court exercises its authority over. They are non-waivable and derived directly from the law.

Other rules, sometimes known as claim-processing rules, are non-jurisdictional and imposed in order to ensure legal matters are solved in a timely manner. In the case of Title VII, the statute requires that employees must file charges with the EEOC in order to adjudicate their claim.

The district court dismissed her religion claim with prejudice, which was subsequently appealed. This case found itself in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where there had been no previous consensus regarding this issue. Also, many federal courts have had differing opinions on Title VII requirements. Previously, the Fifth Circuit had ruled that employee number requirements are non-jurisdictional, meaning the standard rule of coverage (employers with 15+ employees) can be waived in special circumstances. This holding was consistent with holdings in the First, Second, Third, Sixth, Seventh, Tenth, and DC Circuits, but was inconsistent with the Fourth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, causing a dissonance in the federal courts.

The question posed to the Supreme Court was: Is the Title VII administrative requirement to file a charge with the EEOC before litigation jurisdictional (non-waivable) or non-jurisdictional (waivable and subject to court discretion)?

The Court answered the question, choosing that Title VII’s mandatory claim-processing rule can be waived, rather than existing as a non-waivable “jurisdictional” rule. In the 9-0 decision, Justice Ginsburg authored the opinion of the court, holding that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement can be mandatory without being jurisdictional.

There are many instances in which the plaintiff (a worker) will add new allegations to their complaints to the EEOC under Title VII. The Court, holding that the charge-filing requirement is non-jurisdictional, does not give plaintiffs an opportunity to ignore these mandatory charge-filing requirements. However, employers can no longer request that a discrimination lawsuit should be thrown out of court because they did not immediately raise a defense to these additional claims. Fort Worth County waited too long to raise their defense to Ms. Davis’ additional religion-based discrimination claim. If the employer finds a problem with the plaintiff’s obligation to complete the mandatory charge-filing, they must readily write this objection in an answer to the plaintiff or in the motion to dismiss.

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