The Supreme Court ruled that a former Fort Bend County employee did not have to formally list that she was being religiously discriminated before filing a lawsuit against the county.
The decision addresses Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, saying that a plaintiff must exhaust their administrative remedies by filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing a court action is not jurisdictional.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the unanimous opinion that the charge-filing requirement is a “non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule.”
The rule “may be mandatory without being jurisdictional, and Title VII’s charge-filing requirement fits that bill,” Ginsburg wrote.
The ruling means that Lois Davis can try to prove in court that she was discriminated against because of her religion, even though she didn’t bring it up in her filing, according to an analysis of the case by SCOTUSblog, a blog about the Supreme Court.
The case started nine years ago, when Davis, then a county employee in the information technology department, claimed that the IT director sexually harassed her. But after that director resigned, she claimed her supervisor retaliated against her for reporting the harassment.
She filed a charge with the Texas Workforce Commission, which they sent to the EEOC. Later, the county fired Davis for attending a church event instead of coming in to work.
Davis tried to add to her EEOC complaint by handwriting the word “religion” on an intake questionnaire form, but didn’t amend the formal charge document.
TWC told Davis that its preliminary decision was to dismiss the charge, but Davis filed a lawsuit in federal court against Fort Bend County for discrimination and retaliation, but the district court ruled in favor of the county, saying that the court “lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Davis’s religious discrimination claim because she had not stated such a claim in her EEOC charge,” court documents said.
But the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, saying that the requirement to file charges is a “prudential prerequisite” to the suit and was forfeited in Davis’ case because the county had waited too long to object it.
Fort Bend County lawyers argued that the exhaustion requirement was a jurisdictional call, meaning that the federal courts did not have the authority to hear unexhausted Title VII claims.
But the Supreme Court last month basically held up what the Fifth Circuit court said in its decision: that Fort Bend County waited too long to complain about Davis’ failure to complete the process with the EEOC, and thereby waived its rights to raise a failure-to-exhaust argument, SCOTUSblog said.
There is no word on whether Davis plans to continue her lawsuit against Fort Bend County or when it will go forward.