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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Watershed employment law case at U.S. Supreme Court

A recent decision from the United States Supreme Court may well result in a change in the way many federal employment discrimination cases get handled. Of course, it may take several months to actually work out how this case will affect federal employment discrimination claims filed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII.

Title VII is the law under which employees can sue their employers for discrimination based on race, sex, religion and the like. As this blog has mentioned before, the law contemplates that a victim is first going to go to an administrative agency, which at the federal level is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, with their grievance.

It is only after the EEOC declines to take up the case and issues what is called a right-to-sue letter that a victim of discrimination, as understood by federal law, can turn to the courts for relief.

The Supreme Court's decision has clarified that this requirement to go to the EEOC first is not absolute.

Although other federal judges understood it otherwise, all of the Justices on the Supreme Court agreed that in certain circumstances, if an employer chooses not to point out that its employee sued before taking the matter up with the EEOC, then the employer may waive the defense.

Such was the case when an employee technically failed to raise a religious discrimination claim with the EEOC and then went on to sue. The employer only got around to pointing the defect out after years of litigation.

While it still may be necessary to file a claim with an administrative agency before pursuing a discrimination lawsuit, this decision does offer some additional protection to employees.


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