The EEOC sat on an employee’s discrimination charge for six years. Nothing remarkable about a delay at the EEOC, except for the extraordinary length of time. When the employee received his long awaited notice of right to sue from the EEOC on October 4, 2011, he filed suit on December 28, 2011. After more than six years, the employer was justifiably irritated.
The employer sought to dismis the case under the doctrine of “laches,” contending that the employee did not file suit in timely fashion but instead “allowed his charge to languish at the EEOC, failing to identify any excuse for his six-year delay,” which delay, the employer claimed, materially prejudiced it. (Laches is an old equitable doctrine which can be raised by a defendant seeking to throw out a case by a plaintiff who unreasonably delayed filing the case thus causing prejudice to the defendant).
A federal court in Illinois held that the employer failed to demonstrate the absence of a genuine factual dispute regarding the issue of prejudice resulting from the six-plus year delay, even though the employer claimed prejudice “because witnesses who worked with [the employee] in 2005 will not be available; the witnesses who are still available will have incomplete memories of the events; crucial evidence may have been lost or destroyed in the interim; and the delay would subject [the employer] to increased back pay liability.” The Court called all but the last of these arguments “speculative,” and as to the issue of back pay, the Court said it could determine later whether to reduce any back pay award due to unreasonable delay.
Interesting that the fact that the delay was caused by the EEOC was not discussed in the court’s opinion, nor that the EEOC’s delay arguably should not be held against the employee, who it was said, “allowed his charge to languish.”