Resolving an important question that the lower courts have wrestled with for years, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that filing an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before being allowed to sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) is merely a procedural rule – and not a jurisdictional requirement – and that the rule can be waived where circumstances warrant.

The unanimous ruling by the Court in Fort Bend County v. Davis holds that unlike some other Title VII requirements, the obligation that a plaintiff first file an EEOC charge is simply a “charge processing rule, albeit a mandatory one, not a jurisdictional prescription delineating the adjudicatory authority of courts.” In other words, failure by a plaintiff to first file a charge with the EEOC will not automatically bar a subsequent lawsuit.

At the same time, the Court makes clear that charge filing requirements exist for a reason, and that a plaintiff failing to comply may well get her case tossed out – provided the defendant timely raises the issue. According to the Court, although exhaustion is a mandatory, non-jurisdictional claims-processing rule, it “may be forfeited if the party asserting the rule waits too long to raise the point.”    

NT Lakis lawyers had filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in the case arguing (unsuccessfully) that Congress intended the charge filing obligation to be a jurisdictional requirement.

Members of the Center for Workplace Compliance (CWC) can read more here.