Sixth Circuit Rules on Title VII Statutory Limitations

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Attorney Harrison Oldham

Employers in the Sixth Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee) may want to review their employment contracts following a recent decision in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that employers cannot contractually shorten the statutory limitations period for Title VII claims—except in the arbitration context.

Recently the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino. In Logan, Barbrie Logan  worked  as  a  cook  for  MGM  Grand  Detroit  Casino  (“MGM”). Logan began her employment as a culinary utility worker for MGM in August 2007.  As part of her job application, she agreed to a six-month limitation period to bring any lawsuit against her employer. After  several  years of  working  at  MGM,  Logan  resigned  on  December  4, 2014.  Logan’s resignation was, she alleges, “due to discrimination caused by her employer” and therefore a constructive discharge. After leaving the job, she sued MGM under Title VII, alleging employment discrimination.

The EEOC investigated Logan’s allegation and issued her a  right-to-sue  letter  in  November  2015. Her former employer asserted a statute of limitations defense: although Logan arguably brought her claim within the statutory period required by Title VII, she waited longer than the limitation period provided in her employment application. The district court ruled in favor of MGM.

However, the court of appeals reversed the district court’s decision.  In summary, the court of appeals found that “the limitation period of Title VII is part of an elaborate pre-suit process that must be followed before any litigation may commence. Contractual  alteration  of  this  process  abrogates  substantive  rights  and  contravenes Congress’s uniform nationwide legal regime for Title  VII  lawsuits.” In doing so,

As a brief refresher, the  EEOC  process  begins  with  a  “charge”  filed  by  the  victim  of  discrimination.  Generally, the charge must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the occurrence of the alleged unlawful employment practice.  However,  the  filing  period  may  be  extended  to 300 days in jurisdictions that have state or local  law  prohibiting  the  unlawful  employment practice alleged, and a state or local agency with authority to grant or seek  relief  from  such  practice. Within  such  jurisdictions,  known  as “deferral  jurisdictions,”  the  300-day  limitation  period  applies  so  long  as  the  complaining employee has instituted proceedings with the applicable State or local agency

The opinion explains that Title VII’s 300-day statute of limitations for discrimination claims is a substantive right granted by Congress that cannot be shortened by a pre-dispute employment contract.  However, the plaintiff’s contract contained a clause waiving Logan’s right to sue if she waited longer than 6 months following any discriminatory incident to file her claim.

In striking down that clause, the court’s decision relied on Supreme Court precedent holding that “where statutes that create rights and remedies contain their own limitation periods, the limitation period should be treated as a substantive right.”  The opinion explained that Title VII contains its own statutory period of limitations similar to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which the Sixth Circuit had previously held to be un-waivable.  Under longstanding Supreme Court precedent, such substantive employment rights cannot be contractually waived in advance.  The decision distinguished claims under ERISA or Section 1981 because those statutes rely on general limitations periods created by other statutes.

Importantly, the decision also distinguishes prior Sixth Circuit precedent that crafted a different rule for arbitration claims, by stating that a “one-year limitation period to bring a Title VII claim to arbitration is not unduly burdensome, and therefore such a provision is enforceable.”  The Logan court explained that the prior precedent had “little, if any, persuasive force” outside of the arbitration context because it was premised on concerns unique to the Federal Arbitration Act.


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About Harrison Oldham

Harrison grew up in Mansfield, Texas. He attended Texas A&M University for his bachelor’s degree, where he met his wonderful wife, Kelsey. After graduating magna cum laude from Texas A&M, he attended SMU Dedman School of Law, graduating with honors in 2012. Today, Harrison and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their son, Teddy.

Since graduating from SMU Law, Harrison has worked exclusively in the field of business law. He has spent time in private practice and in-house, working with clients of every size; from single person startups to Fortune 250 companies. Today his practice focuses on serving the diverse needs of businesses and individuals throughout Texas. You can learn more about Harrison by visiting his website, at: http://lonestarbusinesslaw.com/.

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