Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides specific time limitations for filing EEOC charges and subsequent lawsuits. What happens, however, if the employer and employee agree to shorten the period of time under which a suit must be filed? Last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an employer’s argument that contracts can alter the applicable statutory limitations periods for filing employment discrimination lawsuits.
In Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino, the employer’s job application included a signed statement requiring that the employee file any lawsuit against the employer within six months of the alleged harm. The plaintiff quit her job and subsequently filed a sex discrimination claim with the EEOC and a lawsuit following the completion of the EEOC investigation. The district court dismissed the suit on the basis that it was filed beyond the six-month limitations period agreed upon by the plaintiff.
The Sixth Circuit had little difficulty reversing this decision. The court noted the specific limitations periods set by Congress in Title VII. The Sixth Circuit characterized these timelines as substantive rights. By requiring that a lawsuit be filed before the EEOC may complete its investigation of the charge, the contract materially interferes with the ability of the EEOC to thoroughly investigate and potentially resolve charges. The court also noted that allowing parties to attempt to shorten the limitations period for filing claims would result in a patchwork of state law rulings on the use of contracts for this purpose.
Courts generally do not favor agreements with employees that limit their rights to seek redress against their employers. Whether using statutory, common law, or public policy grounds, courts will usually prevent employers’ attempts to avoid claims through the use of contracts.