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Most cases involving allegations of workplace discrimination under the federal anti-discrimination statutes are first brought to light through a plaintiff’s filing of a Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Through Title VII, Congress established a procedure requiring an individual seeking to file an employment discrimination claim to first file a charge with the EEOC. Id. §2000e-5(e)(1). If plaintiffs do not fulfill this requirement before filing suit under the federal anti-discrimination statutes, their suits are typically dismissed.
Overruling nearly 40 years of precedent, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a worker’s failure to first raise a specific ADA claim in his EEOC Charge did not bar him from pursuing that claim in his lawsuit. See Lincoln v. BNSF Ry Co., 900 F.3d 1166, 1176 (10th Cir. 2018). In Lincoln, the plaintiffs filed EEOC charges claiming their employer violated the ADA by failing to place them in new positions when they were injured on the job. The plaintiffs subsequently filed suit. The trial court held it did not have jurisdiction over the claims regarding positions that were not specifically mentioned in the plaintiffs’ EEOC charges. See id. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the trial court and held that the provision of the ADA and Title VII giving jurisdiction to the courts did not mention the filing of an EEOC charge. See id. at 1183.The Tenth Circuit’s decision relaxes what employers have been able to rely on as a gate-keeping function as to discrimination claims. It also allows plaintiffs to circumvent the timing requirements. Employers should be cognizant that the Tenth Circuit’s decision could create a trend among other circuits.