HR professionals: Get ready for an onslaught of litigation. With the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision highlighting the need to promptly file discrimination claims, expect more employees to do just that. Pennsylvania employees may also file more Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) complaints.
The Supreme Court decision provided a great employer defense—pointing out that employees wait too long to file. But calculating the timetable can be tricky.
Recent case: Malisa Alexander, who is black, worked for the Keystone Mercy Health Plan as a claims manager. When a new supervisor arrived on the scene, she found herself micromanaged and her job duties diminished to menial tasks. Alexander said white employees weren’t similarly treated, and she complained to HR.
An internal investigation concluded Alexander had indeed been treated unfairly, but not due to her race. Shortly after the investigation, Keystone Mercy fired Alexander. She filed an EEOC complaint and then a federal lawsuit alleging her employer violated both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Keystone Mercy asked the court to toss out Alexander’s Pennsylvania claim since she didn’t file a complaint with the PHRC within 180 days of her termination. The court rejected that defense, reasoning that filing the EEOC claim was as good as filing the PHRC complaint because the two agencies are supposed to send each other the complaints they receive. (Alexander v. Keystone Mercy Health Plan, No. 06-5599, ED PA, 2007)
Final note: The case might have turned out differently with different timing. Employees must file PHRC complaints within 180 days of an alleged discriminatory event, such as discharge or the denial of a promotion. But they have 300 days to file EEOC complaints in states that have a discrimination agency like the PHRC.
That means employees who don’t file with the PHRC directly, but instead file with the EEOC between days 181 and 300, may lose their right to sue under state law. Carefully review all complaints to see if they are timely. Remember, the Supreme Court has signaled it will aggressively enforce filing deadlines.