Statute of Limitations Doesn’t Preclude Title VII Suits

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently reversed a district court decision that dismissed a Title VII suit against the Department of Commerce that was filed 10 years after the initial EEO complaint.Howard v. Department of Commerce, Nos. 12-5370 and 12-5392 (D.C. Cir. 1/6/15).The department alleged that the six-year statute of limitations for civil suits against the federal government, 28 U.S.C. §2401(a), precluded discrimination claims that exceeded that exceeded that time limit.The court disagreed, holding that the statute of limitations didn’t apply to Title VII claims that are pursued by federal employees through the often lengthy administrative process.

The court noted that Congress established time limits for federal employees to file civil suits after initially pursuing discrimination claims through the administrative process.Such suits can be filed within 90 days of receiving a final agency or EEOC decision or after 180 days from the date of filing the formal administrative complaint.The court cited Congress’s comprehensive scheme for processing discrimination complaints and the more lenient limitations for filing Title VII claims in reversing the district court decision.

The court also noted that unlike the fixed six-year time limit of the general statute, “Congress did not establish a time limit after which judicial relief would cease to be available due to the passage of time while employees pursued administrative remedies.”The court held: “Upon examining Title VII’s scheme, we conclude that there is an irreconcilable conflict such that the specific time limits, 42 U.S. C. §2000e-16(c), trumps the general limitations period, 28 U.S. C. §2401(a), and that the Department’s contrary interpretation of the relationship between the two statutes is unpersuasive.”

This decision eliminates what would have been a serious barrier to federal employees filing Title VII suits in federal court following lengthy administrative proceedings.

* This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C.