EEOC’s Investigation in California Man’s Discrimination Claim Extends Filing Deadline, Making Lawsuit Timely

calendar screenWhen you have a potential employment discrimination case, there are many legal procedural hurdles you may have to clear. One of these is making sure that you file the appropriate legal documents before the deadline for filing passes. Filing late could mean losing out entirely on the chance to pursue your case. In one recent Fair Employment and Housing Act case, the California Court of Appeal ruled that, contrary to the decision of a lower court, the man had not missed the applicable deadline and could proceed with his claim of racial discrimination.

The employee, Reginald Mitchell, resigned his job as a health facilities inspector with the California Department of Public Health in 2011. Unfortunately, Mitchell didn’t do this because he found a great new job. He quit because he believed that he, as an African-American and the only non-white person in his division, was the target of racial discrimination.

Believing that his employer had broken the law, Mitchell began pursuing a FEHA claim for discrimination by filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Because of an agreement between the federal and California governments, the EEOC handed the case off to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. DFEH issued a right-to-sue notice and handed the case back off to the EEOC for investigation. The notice was dated September 9, 2011.

EEOC investigated and, in a letter dated September 30, 2013, found “reasonable cause to believe” that the employer discriminated against Mitchell. The U.S. Department of Justice issued a federal right-to-sue notice on the following March 21. Mitchell filed his complaint on July 8, 2014. The employer, as a defense in the case, contended that the statute of limitations prohibited the trial court from even considering Mitchell’s case. The employee had filed suit 107 days after the EEOC issued its right-to-sue notice, or 17 days outside the federal 90-day deadline, the department argued. The trial court accepted that defense and dismissed the case.

The employee appealed, and the appeals court revived the man’s case. The employer was correct that Mitchell did miss the 90-day federal deadline. This fact, however, was not the correct deciding factor in determining whether or not the law allowed the employee to pursue his case. The key deadline in this case was the FEHA’s one-year limitations period, which says that employees have one year from the date of their right-to-sue notices from DFEH in which to bring a lawsuit.

Mitchell filed suit more than two and a half years after his notice from DFEH. However, the law of something called “tolling,” which is an extension of a deadline for pursuing a case in court, applied in Mitchell’s circumstances. In cases in which DFEH hands off the investigation of an employee’s discrimination complaint to the EEOC as part of the two agencies’ agreement with each other, the limitations period is tolled, and the “clock” does not start running until the EEOC finishes its investigation. In this case, Mitchell sued less than 10 months after the EEOC finished its investigation. That made it well within the limitations period and meant that the trial court should not have dismissed his FEHA claim.

Winning your discrimination case requires more than having the facts on your side. It is also about making sure that you bring your lawsuit in a way that complies with all of the law’s procedural rules. The skilled Oakland employment discrimination attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch are here to make sure that you have every opportunity to pursue your case and the recovery you deserve. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Courts Refuse to Allow San Francisco Mechanic to Pursue Title VII, FEHA Claims Over Noose Hung in the Workplace, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, June 15, 2016

California Deputy Wins Appeal Because Disability Discrimination Cases Don’t Require Proof of an Employer’s Ill Will, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, May 31, 2016