We all face deadlines at work, and missed deadlines can be costly in any arena. When it comes to discrimination lawsuits, a missed deadline — sometimes missed by as little as one day — can mean catastrophic results for the worker harmed by illegal discrimination. Timely filings, in addition to all other aspects of procedural rule compliance, represent a vital area where a diligent and experienced New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer can benefit your case.
I.K. allegedly was one of those workers where deadlines were an issue. She was an underwriter for a major insurance company who resigned to start working for a competing insurance company. The worker’s old employer sued her for trade secret violations and breach of contract. The underwriter filed a counterclaim, alleging illegal race/ethnicity and age discrimination.
As noted above, avoiding potential timeliness issues may be crucial to success. In the underwriter’s case, the former employer contended that a critical 90-day deadline had elapsed, which meant I.K. could not pursue her discrimination counterclaims.
Filing with a State or Federal Administrative Agency
A worker who pursues a discrimination lawsuit must meet many deadlines. The first deadline you must satisfy involves filing your complaint with the correct administrative agency. If you work for a larger (15+) employer, you can file directly with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC gives private employees in New Jersey 300 days from the date of the alleged discrimination to file. If you work for a smaller (14 or fewer) employer, you have less time with which to work. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights only gives you 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination in which to file.
After that, you will typically receive something called a “right to sue” letter. Once you get that, you are again “on the clock,” as the law generally gives you only 90 days from receipt of that letter to file your complaint with the court.
The 90-day deadline was a crucial dispute in the underwriter’s case. The employer alleged that the underwriter received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC in June 2021, which meant that the deadline expired in September 2021, many months before the underwriter’s May 2022 complaint filing. The underwriter contended that she did not receive a right-to-sue letter until late February 2022, meaning the May 2022 complaint fell within the 90-day window the law allows.
Because “untimeliness was not apparent,” the court rejected the employer’s request and allowed the employee to continue pursuing her discrimination counterclaim.
Time is of the Essence After Receiving Your EEOC Letter
Earlier last year, a case to our west reminded readers just how strict the courts are with this 90-day deadline. It also shone a spotlight on the need for a legal advocate with the highest level of diligence.
In that case, a Pennsylvania medical assistant, sued her employer for racial and religious discrimination. The EEOC issued its right-to-sue letter on September 8, 2021, and informed the medical assistant and her attorney via electronic communication. Specifically, the EEOC sent an email notifying the recipient of an “important document.” Accessing that document required logging into an online EEO portal, where the user could obtain the right-to-sue letter.
The assistant’s attorney did not access the portal right away. Eventually, counsel discovered the letter and filed a discrimination complaint in the federal Eastern District of Pennsylvania court. The filing date was exactly 91 days after the date of the EEOC’s letter.
The trial judge dismissed the assistant’s case in its entirety. The court noted that courts have consistently held that filing even just one day after the 90-day deadline passes is grounds for dismissal. Failing to access the online portal was no more a valid excuse than asserting that one received a hardcopy right-to-sue letter in the mail but failed to open the envelope.
The federal court in this state has similarly addressed this issue of electronic communication of right-to-sue letters, and it reached a similar result. In 2017, the District of New Jersey court ruled that “the date the e-mail message was received in Plaintiff’s inbox with the right-to-sue letter is the date of receipt.”
The process of pursuing — and then winning — a discrimination case is multi-faceted, with numerous deadlines and an array of rules that you must satisfy. If you don’t, then you may lose your case entirely, no matter how strong your factual evidence was. The knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help, offering highly skillful, diligent, and detail-oriented representation to ensure our clients’ lawsuits are both factually persuasive and procedurally sound. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 530-4330 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.