In Fort Bend County v. Davis, the United States Supreme Court held that charge-filing requirement in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule, subject to forfeiture. The Court first discussed the general law, noting that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Act instructs a complainant, before commencing a Title VII action in court, to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On receipt of a charge, the EEOC is to notify the employer and investigate the allegations. The EEOC may “endeavor to eliminate [the] alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of . . . conciliation.” The EEOC also has the first option to “bring a civil action” against the employer in court. If the EEOC chooses not to sue, and whether or not the EEOC otherwise acts on the charge, a complainant is entitled to a “right-to-sue” notice 180 days after the charge is filed. On receipt of the right-to-sue notice, the complainant may commence a civil action against the employer. In this case, Ms. Davis filed a charge against her employer, Fort Bend County. Davis alleged sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting the harassment. While her EEOC charge was pending, Fort Bend fired Davis because she failed to show up for work on a Sunday and went to a church event instead. Davis attempted to supplement her EEOC charge by handwriting “religion” on a form called an “intake questionnaire,” but she did not amend the formal charge document. Upon receiving a right-to-sue letter, Davis commenced suit in Federal District Court, alleging discrimination on account of religion and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. After years of litigation, only the religion-based discrimination claim remained in the case. Fort Bend then asserted for the first time that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Davis’ case because her EEOC charge did not state a religion-based discrimination claim. The District Court agreed and granted Fort Bend’s motion to dismiss Davis’ suit. On appeal from the dismissal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed. It held that Title VII’s charge-filing requirement was not jurisdictional, but rather the requirement is a prudential prerequisite to suit. It then held Fort Bend had waited too long to raise the objection and forfeited that argument. The Supreme Court agreed and held that the requirement is not jurisdictional and the defense was waived as it was not timely raised.
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