In sum, a rule may be mandatory without being jurisdictional, and Title VII’s charge filing requirement fits that bill.

Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, U.S.S.CT. Case No. 18-525, (June 3, 2019) Slip Opinion at 11.

Lois M. Davis worked for Ford Bend County, Texas in its information technology department. In 2010, she complained that the director of the department Charles Cook was sexually harassing her.  After her employer investigated, Mr. Cook resigned. Ms. Davis’ supervisor  then began retaliating against her for complaining to the human resources department about Mr. Cook.  Initially, the retaliation took the form of cutting back on Ms. Davis’ responsibilities. Ultimately, the supervisor told her she had to work on a Sunday and if she did not show up, she would be fired. As Ms. Davis had a previous commitment at her church, she did not show up for work. She was fired. (Slip Op. at 3-4.)

Originally, Ms. Davis filed a complaint with the EEOC for the alleged sexual harassment only. Then, once the retaliation began, she attempted to supplement her complaint by handwriting in “religion” on the intake questionnaire under “Employment Harms or Actions” but did not add anything or amend her formal charge document. Eventually, the EEOC sent her a “right to sue” letter. (Id. at 4. )

So, Ms. Davis filed a civil action against her employer for both sexual harassment and discrimination on account of religion.  The District court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment which the Fifth Circuit  Court of Appeals affirmed only as to the retaliation claim but reversed on the religious discrimination claim. (Id.) The U.S. Supreme Court denied her petition for certiorari or to hear the case in 2015. (Id.)

So, the case returned to the U.S. District court for trial. Only then did the employer move to dismiss the action on the basis that Ms. Davis had not first pursued her claim of religious discrimination with the EEOC and thus, having not pursued it administratively, the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The District Court agreed and granted the employer’s motion to dismiss.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal disagreed and reversed, holding that the pursuit of her claim with the EEOC prior to filing suit was not jurisdictional but rather “a prudential prerequisite to suit  “which the employer, “”…forfeited …because Fort Bend did not raise it until after “an entire round of appeals all the way to the Supreme Court.” (citation omitted.)” (Id. at 5.)

The Supreme Court granted certiorari this time because of a conflict among the federal appellate courts. While the Fifth Circuit held that the claim filing procedure with the EEOC was not jurisdictional, the Fourth Circuit held to the contrary; that it was jurisdictional. (Id.)

As noted, the Court agreed with the Fifth Circuit holding it to be a “non-jurisdictional claim processing rule.” (Id. at 7.) It reached this conclusion by reviewing the language of the statute, noting that the language requiring that an administrative claim be first filed with the EEOC or applicable state agency is in a different section of Title VII (42 U. S. C. §2000e et seq.) than the language conferring jurisdiction on the courts. (Id. at 9-10.) The Court reasoned that had Congress intended the pursuit of administrative remedies to be a jurisdictional requirement, it would have clearly placed the requisite language in the statutes conferring subject matter jurisdiction on the court. But, it did not do so which led to the conclusion that “Title VII’s charge-filing requirement is a processing rule, albeit a mandatory one, not a jurisdictional prescription delineating the adjudicatory authority of the courts.  “ (Id. at 8)

The Court made it clear that should an employee not first file a claim of discrimination with the EEOC or applicable state agency, the employer may still raise this failure as an objection to the lawsuit.  The only difference now is that such objection must be raised timely or be barred as a “potentially dispositive defense.” (Id. at 11.)

…. Just something to think about.

 

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