Employment Practices

A federal court in Illinois dismissed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a church-operated school on the ground that the plaintiff failed to file the lawsuit by the deadline.

Church Law and Tax 2006-07-01

Employment practices

Key point 8-07. Employees and applicants for employment who believe that an employer has violated a federal civil rights law must pursue their claim according to a specific procedure. Failure to do so will result in the dismissal of their claim.

* A federal court in Illinois dismissed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a church-operated school on the ground that the plaintiff failed to file the lawsuit by the deadline prescribed by law. A male employee of a church school complained to church officials that his supervisor had sexually harassed him by making inappropriate and unwelcome gestures, noises and correspondence, as well as demanding sexual favors. The employee told the supervisor that his actions were inappropriate and asked him to stop his behavior. When the harassment continued, the employee wrote a confidential memorandum to the school principal regarding the harassment and requesting a meeting to resolve the matter. A meeting was convened with the employee, his supervisor, and the principal being present. The principal stated that the complaints had been investigated and not substantiated, and the employee was told that if he did not resign he would be terminated.

The employee filed a discrimination lawsuit against the church and school (the “defendants”) claiming that the supervisor’s actions amounted to sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The defendants asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that it was filed after the deadline prescribed by law.

The court noted that a plaintiff must file an employment discrimination “charge” with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” However, this period is expanded to 300 days if an employee alleging discrimination files a complaint with a state agency. If a charge is not timely filed with the state agency, the extended filing period is not triggered. Under Illinois law, a claim of employment discrimination must be filed with the state department of human resources “within 180 days after the date that a civil rights violation allegedly has been committed.”

The court, in dismissing the lawsuit, observed: “Here, Plaintiff must have filed his EEOC charge either 180 days after the discrimination, or if a timely state claim was filed, 300 days after the discrimination …. In order to be entitled to file an EEOC within 300 days of the discrimination, a party must have first filed a timely complaint with a state agency. [The employee] did not do this …. Thus, plaintiff’s discrimination claims are time barred for failure to comply with the statutory filing requirements.”

Application. As this case illustrates, employees who plan on suing their employer for various forms of discrimination in violation of federal law have a relatively brief window of time to file a “charge” of discrimination with the EEOC or a corresponding state agency. A failure to bring a formal charge by the prescribed deadline will result in a dismissal of the complaint. Espinoza v. Immaculate Conception High School, 2005 WL 1498684 (N.D. Ill. 2005).

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