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Beware: Employees don’t have to meet EEOC deadline in race discrimination cases

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Georgia employers have long believed they were off the hook when employees failed to file EEOC discrimination complaints within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. Georgia is one of a few states with such a short filing period because it does not have its own state discrimination agency. Most states do have such an agency, so employees in most states have up to 300 days to file.

But employees who charge race discrimination under a previously little-known post-Civil War discrimination law aren’t bound by the 180-day limit. What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that the law, known as Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, also covers retaliation claims. That case is CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries.

Recent case:
Matthew Williams, who is black, worked for decades for Packaging Corporation of America. In early 2005, he was informed that his position had been eliminated. However, the company offered him a chance to take a test to become a mechanic. Since he had failed part of the test before, he refused. Instead, more than 180 days later, he filed an EEOC complaint and, later yet, a Section 1981 discrimination claim.

His former employer argued he had missed the 180-day EEOC filing requirement. But the court said Section 1981 doesn’t have a filing deadline—so his lawsuit was timely. Fortunately for the employer, Williams ultimately lost the case because he wasn’t qualified for the mechanic job, since he didn’t pass the test. He also had no proof the test had a disparate impact on black applicants. (Williams v. Packaging Corporation of America, et al., No. 7:06-CV-111, MD GA, 2008)

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