U.S. Supreme Court Holds that an Employee’s Failure to File a Pre-Suit Discrimination Charge with the EEOC Does Not Necessarily Deprive a Court of Jurisdiction over an Employment Discrimination Lawsuit
In Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, 2019 WL 2331306 (U.S. June 3, 2019), the Supreme Court of the United States held that failing to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not deprive a court of jurisdiction over an employment discrimination lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Lois M. Davis alleged that her employer, Fort Bend County, retaliated against her for reporting sexual harassment. In accordance with the procedural requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she filed a charge against Fort Bend County with the EEOC alleging retaliation. While the charge was pending, Ms. Davis notified Fort Bend County that she could not come in on Sunday due to church obligations; when she failed to report to work on Sunday, she was terminated.
Months later, Ms. Davis was notified of her right to sue by the Department of Justice and she commenced suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The complaint repeated the allegations of the EEOC charge but added a claim of religious discrimination. Fort Bend County filed and was granted a summary judgment on all of Ms. Davis’ claims. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding as to Ms. Davis’s retaliation claim, but reversed as to her religion-based claim, which was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.
On remand, Fort Bend County filed a motion to dismiss arguing for the first time, years into the litigation, that the court lacked jurisdiction over Ms. Davis’ religious based discrimination case because it was never raised before the EEOC as required by Title VII. The district court granted the motion to dismiss holding that the court lacked jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the requirement to file an EEOC charge is not jurisdictional, but rather a prudential prerequisite to filing suit. Failure by Fort Bend County to timely raise this prerequisite, forfeited its application in this case. Upon Fort Bend County’s petition, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.
The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine if this pre-suit requirement of filing with the EEOC was jurisdictional. The Court held that the pre-filing requirement of Title VII did not create jurisdiction and was instead a claim-processing rule; which is subject to forfeiture if not timely raised. The Court stressed the fact that the requirement was contained in a separate provision than the provision of Title VII addressing jurisdiction of the federal courts. The Court cautioned that bringing the claim before the EEOC was a precondition to filing suit and an affirmative defense that renders a plaintiff’s claims subject to dismissal if violated and an objection is timely raised by the defendant. Since Fort Bend County’s objection occurred many years into litigation, the Court concluded that it was waived.
Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversing the motion to dismiss.