Is the requirement that plaintiffs raising claims under Title VII - the Federal anti-discrimination statute – file with the EEOC prior to bringing their claims in federal court “jurisdictional”? In Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously held that it is not.
The law requires that when bringing a claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must first file the change with the EEOC so it can undergo an investigative process and make attempts at mediation of the dispute between the parties. The EEOC may chose to file a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiff, but more often it will issue a right to sue letter to the plaintiff if it believes there are grounds for a discrimination claim, at which point the plaintiff may file a lawsuit in federal court.
However, in Fort Bend, the plaintiff did not file her religious discrimination claim with the EEOC prior to filing in federal court. The defendant/employer waited five years to raise the failure to exhaust administrative remedies defense. The 5th Circuit held that the defendant waived the defense by waiting so long to raise it, and defendant appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Title VII exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement was jurisdictional such that the plaintiff’s failure to follow it deprived federal courts of jurisdiction to hear her claim.
The Supreme Court disagreed with the defendants, holding that the requirement that a Title VII claim be first filed with the EEOC “is a processing rule, albeit a mandatory one, not a jurisdictional prescription delineating the adjudicatory authority of courts.” While an employer can raise failure to exhaust administrative remedies as a defense, and while such a defense can form the basis for a lawsuit to be dismissed, the defense can also be waived if the defendant fails to raise it in a timely manner.