Employers that are already perplexed by the long time it takes the EEOC to complete investigations will now have even longer to wait for the conclusion of discrimination charges. Earlier this week, the EEOC announced that due to the COVID-19 emergency, it is suspending issuance of right to sue letters to complaining parties. The right to sue letters are the legal trigger that begins the running of the 90-day period for a complaining party to file suit once the EEOC ends its investigation.
The EEOC justified the delay on the basis that forcing complaining parties to take steps necessary to file suit during the COVID-19 emergency could put their health at risk. The agency also expressed concerns that employees would miss this filing deadline due to their inability to obtain legal representation or other assistance at this time. The EEOC will continue to issue right to sue letters if specifically requested by a complaining party.
This action does not affect the time periods complaining parties have to file their initial EEOC charges. The agency said that changing this deadline would require congressional action. Employers faced with long delays between the time of the initial charge filing and right to sue letter could claim a “laches” defense to a later lawsuit based on this delay. However, federal courts have traditionally been unwilling to punish private litigants due to the EEOC’s inability to conduct prompt investigations.