Filing with EEOC Not Required for Court to Hear Title VII Lawsuit

US Supreme Court Allows Title VII Discrimination Lawsuit to ProceedEarlier this month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that filing a Charge of Discrimination is not required for a court to have jurisdiction over a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil of Rights Act of 1964.

Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  It requires employees to file a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), wait at least 180 days for the EEOC to investigate the claim, and then receive a “Right to Sue” letter before they can file a lawsuit.

Lois Davis worked for Fort Bend County, Texas.  She made an internal sexual harassment complaint to the County’s human resources department.  After Fort Bend subsequently reduced her job responsibilities, she filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC claiming she was the victim of retaliation for reporting the sexual harassment.

In the meantime, the County instructed Ms. Davis to work on a Sunday.  However, Ms. Davis told her supervisor that she had a commitment at her church that Sunday, and suggested that another employee work on Sunday instead.  In response, the County warned Ms. Davis that it would fire her if she did not come to work on Sunday.  Ms. Davis did not report to work that Sunday, and true to its word the County fired her.

Ms. Davis never amended her Charge of Discrimination to assert a claim that Fort Bend failed to accommodate her religion or that it fired her because of her religion.  She eventually received a Right to Sue letter regarding her retaliation claim, and filed a lawsuit in which she claimed the County fired her because she reported sexual harassment and because it failed to accommodate religious belief.

The District Court eventually dismissed Ms. Davis’ entire case, but Ms. Davis appealed.  The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reinstated her religious discrimination claim, and the case returned to the District Court.

After the case was remanded to the District Court, Fort Bend asserted, for the first time, that the District Court did not have jurisdiction over Ms. Davis’ religious discrimination claim because she never asserted that claim in the EEOC.  The District Court agreed, concluding that it did not have jurisdiction over Ms. Davis’ religious discrimination case.  The District Court concluded that filing a Charge of Discrimination is jurisdictional, and therefore Fort Bend could not have waived that requirement.  It thus once again dismissed Ms. Davis’ religious discrimination claim.

Ms. Davis appealed again, and the appellate court once again reversed the District Court’s decision.  The Fifth Circuit concluded that the requirement to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC is not jurisdictional, and that Fort Bend waived that requirement by waiting so long before it asserted a defense based on Ms. Davis’ failure to pursue her religious discrimination claim in the EEOC.

Fort Bend asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case, and it agreed.  On June 3, 2019, in Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.  It concluded that although employees are required to file their claims with the EEOC before they can file a Title VII lawsuit, that is merely a procedural, rather than a jurisdictional, requirement.  It further concluded that the procedural requirement can be waived, and that Fort Bend had waived it.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling that Ms. Davis can proceed with her religious discrimination claim even though she never filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC regarding that claim.