- An employer may not contractually shorten the limitations period for bringing a lawsuit allowed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino, No. 18-1381 (6th Cir. Sept. 25, 2019)).
- Barbrie Logan, a cook at MGM Grand Casino in Detroit, agreed to a six-month limitation period for any lawsuits she might file against her employer. After leaving her job, she sued the casino for sex bias and retaliation, alleging constructive discharge. The casino argued that she was outside the six-month limitation period, even though she was still within Title VII's 300-day limitation period. A federal district court sided with the casino.
- On appeal, however, the 6th Circuit reversed and remanded the decision. The courtnoted that Title VII has a unique enforcement scheme, designed to encourage "cooperation and voluntary compliance," that requires a plaintiff to first bring a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and exhaust remedies there before going to court. EEOC has a period of exclusive jurisdiction for 180 days, and once a right-to-sue letter is issued, a plaintiff has 90 days to file a lawsuit. "Any alterations to the statutory limitation period ... remov[e] the incentive of employers to cooperate with the EEOC, and encourag[e] litigation," the court said. Additionally, because the 300-day limitations period contained within Title VII itself is substantive, not procedural, it cannot be waived, it concluded.
In the employment law context, there are some provisions that can be waived. Employees can waive their right to sue and agree to mandatory arbitration, for example, although such agreements have come under scrutiny lately, leading some companies (including Microsoft and Facebook) to stop using mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment claims.
Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court also has upheld an employer's right to require that workers arbitrate disputes individually, waiving their right to class or collective actions.
There are other rights, however, that can't be waived. The U.S. Department of Labor recently concluded that neither employers nor employees may decline to designate a leave as FMLA-qualifying if the circumstances dictate that it is. And while Logan affects only employers in the 6th Circuit, employers may now want to consider whether Title VII's limitations period should be in that category as well.