In an effort to delay litigation deadlines, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stopped issuing Right-to-Sue Letters amid the COVID-19 pandemic, unless specifically requested by an employee. Although the EEOC has not publicly announced its new policy, it has confirmed this practice to several news outlets.
The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. Workers who claim they have been subject to unlawful discrimination and wish to bring a claim under these federal laws must first file a charge with the Agency. The EEOC can resolve the charge in a number of ways. If the agency declines to bring a lawsuit itself, it issues the individual a “Notice of Right to Sue” (commonly called a “Right-to-Sue Letter”) allowing the employee to file the claim in court. The EEOC’s issuance of a Right-to-Sue Letter starts a 90-day filing deadline for the employee to bring the lawsuit. The EEOC’s new practice will keep this 90-day clock from starting.
Importantly, filing deadlines with the EEOC have not been affected – charges must still be filed with the Agency within the applicable time frame (300 days or 180 days depending on circumstances). Employers, therefore, may continue to see new charges, but can expect delays in the Agency closing these matters. This practice may provide employers with a temporary reprieve from most new federal discrimination lawsuits while dealing with the employment challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic (as the Right-to-Sue Letter is a pre-requisite). However, the EEOC’s practice also prolongs any finality to such administrative claims because as long as the EEOC refuses to issue its determinations, the potential for lawsuits based on these charges of discrimination remains.
If you have any questions about this topic or other workplace issues related to the pandemic response, Reed Smith’s Labor and Employment Team is available to assist.