Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Untimely EEOC complaint results in Title VII dismissal

You have 300 days to file a charge with discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you suffered discrimination at work. Not 301 days or 302 days, but 300 days. The Federal courts strictly interpret this rule, for the most part. The Second Circuit did so this week.

The case is Alleyne v. American Airlines, decided on November 17. This case raises a recurring problem. Let's say you are fired on January 1 but the termination does not take effect until March 30. Then the operative date for purposes of filing the EEOC complaint is January 1, not when the adverse decision actually takes effect.

This case covers the same territory, according to the Court of Appeals, because the plaintiff lost his seniority in March 2002 and was terminated from his position in June 2003. His EEOC filing was within 300 days of the termination, not the loss of seniority. But since the plaintiff claimed that his seniority was revoked in March 2002 for discriminatory reasons and for the purposes of making it easier to fire him down the road, the operative date for the EEOC filing is March 2002, especially since he does not claim the June 2003 termination was discriminatory.

In other words, the real discriminatory event was in March 2002. While the consequence of that event was plaintiff's termination in June 2003, it was the March 2002 seniority revocation which counts under this analysis. The plaintiff argued that he could not have anticipated in March 2002 that the seniority decision would have this effect on his employment more than a year later. The Circuit Court disagrees. The loss of seniority is no trivial matter. Moreover, the Second Circuit states, "Alleyne does not, and reasonably cannot, downplay the significance of the loss of approximately nine years of seniority. 'Seniority is an important employee benefit because . . . it provides job protection. Its deprivation is an injury that sets the statute of limitations running even though the injury is contingent rather than actual unless and until job protection is needed.' Thus, in order to have notice of his claim under Title VII, Alleyne need not have forecast every problem attending his loss of seniority. '[T]he proper focus [for calculating the limitations period] is upon the time of the discriminatory acts, not upon the time at which the consequences of the acts became most painful.'"

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