Friday, September 1, 2017

Third Circuit on Title VII, ADA, and 1983 claims

Yesterday, the Third Circuit issued a precedential opinion in Williams v. PHRC.

Williams sued the PHRC for allegedly discriminating against her based on her race and disability. Generally, under 42 U.S.C. §1983, people can sue state actors for violating their federal rights - like constitutional rights, or statutory rights. Williams sued under Title VII (race discrimination) and under §1983, claiming violation of her rights under Title VII and the ADA (disability discrimination).

Not official use.
Here's the rub . . . plaintiffs cannot bring §1983 claims where Congress has created a "comprehensive enforcement scheme" to enforce the rights at issue. And, it certainly seems like Congress has done so with Title VII and the ADA. Thus, the Court concluded:
[P]laintiffs may not seek damages under § 1983 for stand-alone violations of either Title VII or the ADA.
Plaintiffs must instead proceed under Title VII and the ADA, not under §1983.

Why does this matter? It matters because discrimination claims under Title VII and the ADA generally require exhaustion of administrative remedies. In other words, Plaintiffs have to submit a charge of discrimination to the EEOC (and the state-equivalent, in PA the PHRC) before going to Court. This often involves informal resolution procedures too. For §1983 claims, plaintiffs can just go straight to court. Also, the time to file a §1983 claim is much longer than the time to file a charge with the EEOC. The Court sums it up nicely:
Given these respective statutes, Congress’s intent is clear. Allowing pure Title VII and ADA claims under § 1983 would thwart Congress’s carefully crafted administrative scheme by throwing open a back door to the federal courthouse when the front door is purposefully fortified.
Other circuits have held similarly.