Before you sue an employer for discrimination under Title VII, there are certain procedural requirements which must be met. One major requirement, is that you must file a complaint with the EEOC and/or the state equivalent (in Pennsylvania, the PHRC) within 300 days of the violation (the time limit gets a little tricky sometimes, contact a lawyer for help with the details). What if you don't do that?
When? "[D]ismissal may be appropriate where the plaintiff concedes that he failed to exhaust." In Fernandez, the plaintiff expressly stated that he was ignorant of the need to contact the agencies. When he finally did, the EEOC informed him that "the time limit . . . had expired." He also stated that he was not aware that he could contact the state agency. Thus, the Court concluded that sua sponte dismissal was appropriate "under these limited circumstances."
There are a few lessons here. For employees with claims of discrimination, you need to get in touch with a lawyer, state agency, or EEOC as soon as possible to jump through the proper procedural hoops. For employers, you ordinarily need to raise failure to exhaust administrative remedies as an affirmative defense. But, sometimes, the court can dismiss the case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies all on its own.
Citation: Fernandez v. Rose Trucking, 2011 WL 2065064, No. 10-3409 (3d Cir. May 26, 2011).
Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.