A federal lawsuit alleging discrimination under Title VII must be filed within ninety days after the EEOC has completed its handling of the related discrimination charge and issued its Notice of Right To Sue. Some employers attempt to shorten the time for filing discrimination charges by getting employee or applicants to sign agreements to that effect. On Sept. 25, 2019, in Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that efforts to shorten the statute of limitations for Title VII cases are not enforceable.
The Circuit Court overturned a district court decision that found that Barbrie Logan’s sex discrimination lawsuit could not proceed because it was barred by a six-month statute of limitations to which she agreed when she applied for employment with MGM. In overturning the lower court’s decision, the 6th Circuit stated,
“The limitation period of Title VII is part of an elaborate pre-suit process that must be followed before any litigation may commence. Contractual alteration of this process abrogates substantive rights and contravenes Congress’s uniform nationwide legal regime for Title VII lawsuits.”
Two hundred and sixteen days after resigning her employment with MGM on Dec. 4, 2014, Ms. Logan filed an EEOC charge alleging that she was constructively discharged due to sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The EEOC issued a right to sue notice in November 2015 and she filed suit in federal district court on Feb. 17, 2016—440 days after resigning. MGM filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that both the EEOC charge and her subsequent federal lawsuit were barred by the contractual 6 month statute of limitations. A magistrate judge of the district court agreed and issued a report recommending that summary judgment be entered in MGM’s favor. The district judge adopted the magistrate’s recommendation and entered judgment for MGM.
After a detailed discussion of the Title VII charge process and enforcement scheme, the 6th Circuit reversed. Noting that “[i]n crafting Title VII, Congress chose ‘[c]ooperation and voluntary compliance…as the preferred means’ for eradicating workplace discrimination,” the court stated that
“[a]ny alterations to the statutory limitation period necessarily risk upsetting this delicate balance, removing the incentive of employers to cooperate with the EEOC, and encouraging litigation that gives short shrift to pre-suit investigation and potential resolution of disputes through the EEOC and analog state and local agencies.”
In this way, according to the court, Title VII claims are distinguishable from claims of discrimination brought under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 and claims brought pursuant to ERISA (regarding which the 6th Circuit previously has endorsed shorter contractual statutes of limitations.)
How does this affect those in Ohio?
In Ohio, employees challenging an adverse employment decision as having been based on their protected status under Ohio Chapter 4112 (similar in most respects to the protected statuses found in Title VII) have the option to file a lawsuit directly in the court of common pleas rather than a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Therefore, when an employee chooses to forego the charge filing process with the OCRC to enforce his or her rights, Ohio employers should argue for enforcement of a shorter contractual statute of limitations because the Logan court’s analysis would no longer be applicable. As we previously reported, federal courts in Ohio already have upheld employers’ rights to enforce contractual statutes of limitations in employment actions that did not raise claims under Title VII.