The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week that in certain cases federal courts may hear discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act even if the claims were not brought first to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a state administrative agency.
Employees still generally must bring Title VII discrimination claims to the EEOC or a state agency before going to court. However, if an employee adds another discrimination claim in the court proceeding (that was not included in the charge when it was filed with the administrative agency), and the employer does not object to the addition at that time of the addition, then the employer cannot later assert the defense that the additional claim must also go through the EEOC or administrative agency.
In Fort Bend County v. Davis, a former worker, Lois Davis, had filed a retaliation and sex bias charge with Texas’ EEOC. In the margin of a supplemental form to the original charge, Davis had written “religion.” The employer, Fort Bend County, argued that the additional charge was not valid because it had not been reviewed by the EEOC with the original charge prior to Davis suing Fort Bend in court. The Supreme Court upheld the Fifth Circuit’s ruling that Fort Bend lost the defense that Davis did not file the additional claim with the EEOC because it waited too long to object.
What it Means for Employers
Employers should pay close attention to complaints to be sure they match up with administrative charges filed. If they do not raise objections in their answer to the complaint or in a motion to dismiss. As a result, employers could risk losing the defense that an employee has an obligation to exhaust administrative remedies. It is not unusual for an employee to add additional claims after a charge has been filed. The ruling puts the burden on the employer to closely review the administrative charge filed by the employer.
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