Mar 19, 2019
by Ed Lamb
IPMA-HR on March 4, 2019, joined several other public sector associations in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to require plaintiffs in Title VII cases to exhaust all their options for resolving claims before they have the right to file civil lawsuits. Justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis on April 22.
Lois Davis had worked as an IT supervisor for the county until being terminated for failing to report for work on a Sunday. The firing followed unresolved accusations of sexual harassment and retaliation. A further accusation of religious discrimination emerged following the firing.
A federal district court dismissed Davis’ harassment and retaliation claims, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit returned her religious discrimination claim to the lower court. Only then did the county argue that Davis had no right to sue because she had not exhausted her administrative remedies on alleged religious discrimination before filing her lawsuit.
Federal appeals courts have ruled both ways on administrative exhaustion. In this case, the Fifth Circuit stated (with emphasis added) on June 20, 2018, that “Title VII’s administrative exhaustion requirement is not a jurisdictional bar to suit but rather a prudential prerequisite under our binding precedent, and Fort Bend forfeited its exhaustion argument by not raising it in a timely manner before the district court.”
The full text of our amici curiae is available online.
The associations summarize their position this way:
The Court should hold that Title VII’s exhaustion requirement is jurisdictional so that employees are required to proceed through the EEOC’s informal phases of investigation and conciliation. This procedure promotes judicial efficiency and resolution of disputes inexpensively and outside of court.
The associations note that plaintiff should not find exhausting their administrative remedies “burdensome” because well-established methods to quickly investigate and propose resolutions exist. Further, the groups note, allowing plaintiffs to move immediately to trial will greatly increase expenses for all parties and eliminate opportunities to reach mutually agreeable settlements.
Writing in support of Fort Bend County are the
- National Conference of State Legislatures,
- National Association of Counties,
- National League of Cities,
- U.S. Conference of Mayors,
- International City/County Management Association,
- International Municipal Lawyers Association,
- National Public Employer Labor Relations Association,
- International Public Management Association for Human Resources, and
- National School Boards Association.