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Employers that are hit with a discrimination complaint must act fast to compare the allegations in the lawsuit to the earlier complaint the worker filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If the employer can find that the allegations in the complaint filed with the EEOC do not match those in the subsequent lawsuit filed by the worker, it can quickly move to have the case dismissed, but if it waits too long, it loses the chance. That’s according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2019.

Under procedural rules, employees filing suit under Title VII Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must first file a complaint with the EEOC.

The decision that paved the way for this new procedural rule was a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Fort Bend County vs. Lois M. Davis.

The ruling means that employers that are sued for discrimination under Title VII have a limited amount of time to challenge the lawsuit if the allegations differ in any way from the original EEOC complaint. If they act fast, then they stand a good chance of convincing the court to throw out the complaint.

However, if an employer dawdles and waits too long to challenge the case if they find a discrepancy, they may lose the opportunity.

If the employer in this case had acted quickly, it would never have gone to the Supreme Court, legal experts say.

The case details

An IT worker in Texas had reported that her director was sexually harassing her, and after an investigation he was fired. But after that, her supervisors began retaliating by cutting back on her work responsibilities. She filed a charge with the EEOC and, while the charge was pending, she was told to report to work on a Sunday. She refused and went to church instead.

She tried to supplement her allegations and wrote the word “religion” by hand on her EEOC intake questionnaire, but she didn’t change her formal charge document by adding that word.

The case went to trial and was appealed, and then it was sent back to the local U.S. District Court to decide the remaining charge of religious discrimination. The case had been in the courts for three years at that point.

That’s when her former employer asserted that the District Court didn’t have jurisdiction of the case because she had failed to state the claim in her EEOC charge papers. That issue was taken all the way to the Supreme court, which wrote in its decision that an objection to a charge because of a discrepancy may be forfeited “if the party asserting the rule waited too long to raise the point.”

The takeaway

If your organization is the target of a discrimination lawsuit, make sure to check the original EEOC charge for any discrepancies. If there are any, you can consult with your lawyers about filing a motion to have the complaint dismissed.