Title VII Limitations Period May Not Be Shortened By Contract
Addressing the issue for the first time, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that employers cannot by contract shorten the statutory limitations period (i.e. the time period within which a claim must be brought) under Title VII.
Title VII contains specific time periods applicable to bringing a lawsuit. An employee must first file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a state anti-discrimination agency within 180 days, although this is extended to 300 days in “deferral” states (i.e. states with both anti-discrimination laws and state agencies to enforce them). The EEOC maintains jurisdiction over the matter for 180 days following the charge filing, during which time it conducts an investigation into the charge, which may last longer than 180 days. Once the EEOC makes a determination and issues a notice of right to sue, the employee has 90 days in which to file suit in federal court.
In Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino, the employee signed a job application containing a provision that established a six-month limitations period for bringing any lawsuit against the employer and that waived any applicable statutes of limitation. The employee, 216 days after her resignation, filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and after she received a notice of right to sue, brought suit in federal court. The employer moved to dismiss her lawsuit because it was not timely filed within the contractual six-month period.
The Sixth Circuit, however, found that contractual limitation to be unenforceable. Notably, the Sixth Circuit drew a distinction between statutes containing a limitations period, such as Title VII, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Equal Pay Act, and those that do not, such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Section 1981. Thus, Title VII’s limitations period is a non-waivable substantive right, rather than a waivable procedural one, which is intended to protect the pre-suit process established by Congress to allow the EEOC to investigate charges and promote voluntary compliance with Title VII.
This case makes clear that, while employers may shorten limitations periods by contract for certain claims, such contractual limitations would not apply to any statutory claim where the statute itself – like Title VII – contains a limitations period.