Court Ruling Reinforces the Importance of Timely Filing of Employment Cases
Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a California age discrimination case denying the plaintiff’s claims because he failed to file claim with the state agency in time.
Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employee must file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (or EEOC) within a certain period of time; usually three years. Unless the administrative claim is dismissed, and a right-to-sue letter issued, the employee cannot file a lawsuit in court.
If you suspect discrimination or harassment on the basis of some characteristic such as age, sex, race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status, pregnancy, disability, medical condition, or medical leave, it is important to contact an attorney right away. A skilled California employment lawyer can make sure your claims are timely filed to preserve your rights to sue.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was hired by his employer in 2007, when he was 55 years old. Between the date of his hiring and 2011, the employee was counseled several times on a variety of workplace-performance issues.
In late-2011, the employer learned that its funding would be cut, and implemented a Reduction in Workforce (RIF), or broad layoffs. Because of the employee’s history of mixed performance, he was placed in the bin of employees that may be laid off. In March 2012, the employee was laid off. The employer did not hire anyone to replace the employee, but instead assigned the employee’s duties to another worker.
In January 2013, the employee filed a complaint with the DFEH, alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The DFEH issues a right-to-sue letter after closing out the employee’s file. A year later, the employee filed an amended complaint, raising additional claims. The plaintiff stated that he also filed a complaint with the EEOC, although that complaint could not be located.
In January 2014, the employee joined with several others in filing a class action age discrimination lawsuit against the employer. The following year, the class filed an amended complaint, adding claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) for age-related disability claims.
Because the case now involved federal claims, the employer successfully sought to have the case removed to federal court. The federal court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims, noting that his right-to-sue letter did not cover the claims in the most recent case.
The employee went back to the EEOC and asked it to reopen his case. Specifically, he wanted to amend the EEOC complaint to include the class action and ADEA claims. The EEOC reopened the case, as requested, and issued a new right-to-sue letter. The employee then took the EEOC right-to-sue letter to the DFEH, asking it to “correct” its own right-to-sue letter to reflect the amended claims. The DFEH interviewed the employee, and amended his complaint, but never issued a new right-to-sue letter.
At this point, the employee sought another amendment in federal court. However, the employer argued that his claim should be dismissed because the employee never complied with the administrative filing requirements.
After reviewing the timeline, the court agreed with the employer that the employee did not comply with the administrative filing requirements. The court explained that “the exhaustion of EEOC remedies does not satisfy the exhaustion requirements for state law claims.”
This case is a good example of how complex employment litigation can be. Both California and federal law provide employees with protection from illegal discrimination. However, the extent of these protections varies depending on whether a claim is filed in state or federal court. To bring a claim in state court, an employee must exhaust their state remedies. While, in many cases, filing with the EEOC or the DFEH will exhaust both state and federal remedies, that is not necessarily the case; an employee must request that the claim be cross-filed with the other agency. A skilled employment attorney will know all of these rules and take care of it for you.
Contact a Dedicated San Francisco Employment Law Attorney
The McCormack Law Firm represents workers in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area in all types of employment discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination claims. Our knowledgeable attorneys routinely handle cases where employees were fired, or experienced serious discrimination or harassment due to their age or disability. We also handle all other types of California employment discrimination claims. For the past 20 years, we have been providing top-notch representation to clients across the Bay Area and look forward to seeing how we can help you. To learn more, contact us at 415-925-5161. You can also connect with us through our online form.
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