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Court says ‘First things first’: No EEOC complaint means no federal lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

A federal trial court has refused to open the litigation floodgates for former employees who go directly to federal court instead of following the proper procedures before suing.

Employees who want to sue for employment discrimination under Title VII are supposed to file a complaint with the EEOC or a state discrimination agency first and wait for that agency to investigate and perhaps settle the case. The process, designed to limit litigation and encourage settlements, requires quick action.

Recent case:
Derringer Funches, who is black, worked as a preschool teaching assistant. He complained that one of the children used racial epithets and engaged in racially offensive behavior toward black children. Funches disagreed with the approach the school wanted to take to stop the child from continuing the behavior. Eventually he was fired.

He filed a discrimination lawsuit directly in federal court without first going to the EEOC.

The court asked why he had bypassed the agency, and he explained that he believed going to the EEOC was a waste of time because it would just involve an exchange of letters.

But the court said it didn’t matter whether time would be wasted. The law says employees have to give the agency a chance to resolve the conflict before the case goes to court. (Funches v. Jeremiah Program, No. 08-5938. DC MN, 2009)

Final note: The federal court also dismissed Funches’ state claims, with instructions that he could file them in a state court.

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