Today, the US Supreme Court settled a hotly debated issue under Title VII: Is the statute’s charge-filing requirement jurisdictional? The answer, according to the unanimous Court, is no.

Title VII, of course, prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It bars, as well, retaliation against individuals who attempt to vindicate their Title VII rights. But, the statute mandates that, before hauling alleged transgressors into court, the complainant must file a timely charge with the EEOC or a state or local fair employment agency.

In Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis, years into the litigation, Fort Bend argued that the district court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Davis’ religious discrimination claim because she failed to raise it in her administrative charge. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Instead, the Court drew a distinction between:

  • Jurisdictional defects, which a defendant may raise at any time and which a court must consider on its own; and
  • Non-jurisdictional claim processing missteps, objections to which a defendant waives, unless timely raised.

Title VII’s charge filing requirement, the Court explained, fits the latter bill. And, Fort Bend waived the defense by not raising it early in the case.

The Takeaway

The Supreme Court’s decision means that Title VII defendants must determine, at the outset, whether a claimant has satisfied the statute’s charge-filing requirements. If not, the employer should raise that defense in its initial pleading. Otherwise, the defense will be waived.