The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday in Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis that the charge-filing provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA) is not jurisdictional.
The CRA “prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Before bringing a complaint under Title VII of the CRA to court, one needs to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is tasked with investigating the allegations and can bring a civil action against the employer. A complainant has the right to sue 180 days after filing a charge with the EEOC if the EEOC decides not to sue.
The majority, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, stated that when Congress expressly makes something jurisdictional, able to be brought up at any time to dismiss the case, the courts have to respect it. Here, Congress did not make such a distinction. There are procedural obligations that can be involved with a rule that make it “mandatory without being jurisdictional, and Title VII’s charge-filing requirement fits that bill.”
Davis filed with the EEOC against her employer for sexual harassment and later informally amended her complaint to include religious discrimination when she was fired for missing work to go to a church event. The Court of Appeals held that the requirements of Title VII are not jurisdictional but are a prerequisite to suit.
Fort Bend first moved to dismiss the religious discrimination claim years into the litigation and after many rounds of appeals. The Fifth Circuit previously held that the charge-filing is a prerequisite to suit that was forfeited in this case because Fort Bend waited too long to raise it.