Timing is everything in discrimination suits. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2008 that an employee could effectively file a discrimination complaint simply by completing an EEOC intake document, employers have learned they can’t rely on the date stamped on the actual EEOC complaint form as the official deadline date.
Employees have 300 days to file an EEOC complaint, but that “complaint” can sometimes take the form of the administrative paperwork the agency uses to get the process started.
Recent case: Kuriakose Joseph tried to sue his former employer, a state agency, for discrimination. The agency succeeded in getting the judge to dismiss Joseph’s case. The court ruled he had filed his EEOC complaint more than 300 days after he claimed he experienced discrimination.
But Joseph appealed, and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said he should have a chance to dig up his intake form to see whether it was dated within the 300-day deadline. (Joseph v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 07-4259, 3rd Cir., 2009)
Final note: Let this case serve as two lessons. First, courts are reluctant to let employees lose a case on a technicality and will bend over backward to let them have their day in court. Second, don’t assume that if you don’t get that EEOC complaint, you are in the clear. In fact, as soon as an employee is terminated (or before), start documenting everything surrounding the event. Talk to everyone involved and document their stories.
Three hundred days may not sound like much, but in this economy, you simply don’t know which employees will still be around to back you up. If you get their stories in writing, it’s less likely they will change their minds about what happened if they, too, lose their jobs.
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