Supreme Court Eases Path for Employee Discrimination Lawsuits

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 10, 2019

An employer may not rely solely on an employee's failure to file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to dismiss a Title VII lawsuit, the Supreme Court has ruled. This unanimous holding in Fort Bend County v. Davis makes it more difficult for employers to dismiss discrimination lawsuits on technical grounds.

In this case, the employer argued that a fired employee's religious discrimination claim should be dismissed because she did not file the claim first with the EEOC before going to court. But the Supreme Court disagreed and sided with the employee.

Writing for the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained that an employer must raise a worker's failure to file an EEOC charge in a timely manner or else forfeit that defense.

Fort Bend County, Texas, worker Lois Davis had brought sexual harassment and retaliation charges with the EEOC, but her employer fired her while the charges were pending for refusing to work on a Sunday. Davis amended her claims to include religious discrimination, but never changed her formal EEOC charge document.

After years of litigation, only the religious discrimination claim remained. It was not until that point that the employer sought to dismiss the case, claiming there was no jurisdiction for a court to hear it because of Davis's failure to include the religious bias claim with the EEOC.

The Supreme Court dismissed concerns voiced by the US Chamber of Commerce that the case could lead future plaintiffs to knowingly skirt EEOC charge-filing requirements. Justice Ginsburg noted, "A Title VII complainant would be foolhardy consciously to take the risk that the employer would forego a potentially dispositive defense."