On June 3, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously resolved a split among federal appellate courts dealing with the question of whether Title VII’s requirement that plaintiffs file an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is jurisdictional. If considered a jurisdictional requirement, employers could move to dismiss the claim for failure to file a charge at any point in the litigation.
In Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, the plaintiff filed an EEOC charge alleging sexual harassment. After being terminated, she tried to supplement her charge to add religious discrimination claims but never actually amended the charge itself. After several years of litigation and a remand from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the defendant moved to dismiss the religious discrimination claims on the basis of failure to file a proper EEOC charge. The district court agreed, but the Fifth Circuit reinstated the claims, concluding that the defendant had waited too long to seek dismissal.
The defendant then appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that Title VII’s EEOC filing requirement is jurisdictional, meaning that the employer can assert lack of subject matter jurisdiction at any point in the litigation. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, reviewing the language and legislative history of Title VII and concluding that the charge filing requirement is a “claim-processing” rule that must be raised by the defendant at an appropriate point during the litigation.
Practically, this decision means that employers cannot sit on their hands before seeking to dismiss an employment discrimination claim for failure to file an EEOC charge. The employer’s initial assessment of the claim should include a review of the lawsuit’s allegations to make sure that they generally line up with the claims noted in the EEOC charge.