Turns out the EEOC has to follow the rules just like everybody else.
That heartening piece of news came in a recent federal district court decision out of New Jersey. The judge ruled that the agency wasn’t exempt from the federal law that says if you want to file a discrimination complaint, you’ve got to do so within 300 days of the alleged violation.
The case, EEOC v. Princeton Healthcare System, alleged that the medical provider exhibited an improper “pattern or practice” in its handling of employees.
The suit originally arose from two charges — one for gender discrimination filed July 31, 2007, and another for failure to provide reasonable accommodation under the ADA, filed Dec. 1, 2008.
The agency later added another complainant — this one from a woman who’d been terminated in 2006.
Feds say law doesn’t apply
The employer filed a motion asking that all but the ADA charge be dismissed, since the other two claims were based on allegations concerning actions that occurred more than 300 days before the ADA complaint was filed.
The EEOC countered that the 300-day statute of limitations didn’t apply to lawsuits filed by the agency.
Wrong, said the judge. “Simply because the EEOC has a unique role compared to individual plaintiffs alleging unlawful employment practices does not exempt it from the rules plainly laid out in the controlling statutes,” the judge wrote.
Agency gets a message
The good news for employers? The EEOC got taken to task for its over-aggressive tactics in putting together “pattern and practice” suits. The ruling certainly doesn’t mean the agency will be throttling back its enforcement efforts, but it will likely be more careful in the way it plans to bring such cases to court.