There’s a deadline to file discrimination charges with the EEOC. An employee learned that courts rarely excuse late filings.


Employees who want to bring federal anti-discrimination claims in court can’t just file the lawsuit. Instead, they must first file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

There are time limits to filing with the EEOC.

The EEOC website states:

In general, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180 calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. The rules are slightly different for age discrimination charges.

Pennsylvania is one of those states — although, technically, it’s a Commonwealth — where employees have 300 calendar days to file with the EEOC. Last night, I read a federal court decision involving a local employee claiming discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 who waited more than 300 days to file with the EEOC before attempting to pursue his discrimination claims in federal court.

Ordinarily, the plaintiff’s claims would have been time-barred and dismissed. However, the EEOC filing requirement is subject to what courts refer to as “equitable tolling principles.”

“Equitable tolling principles” isn’t fancy legal speak for a judge feeling really sorry for sympathetic plaintiffs who claim they were forced to endure horrific acts of discrimination. No, it’s more formulaic than that. Otherwise, applying the rules would vary too wildly to have any value.

In the Third Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, there are usually three equitable tolling principles:

  1. where the defendant has actively misled the plaintiff respecting the plaintiff’s cause of action;
  2. where the plaintiff in some extraordinary way has been prevented from asserting their rights; or
  3. where the plaintiff has timely asserted their rights mistakenly in the wrong forum.

In the decision I read, none of those principles applied. Instead, the plaintiff asserted that he did not file a timely complaint with the EEOC because he “did not run to the [EEOC] as soon as problems arose with the Defendants. He [instead] attempted to resolve the issues on his own using the existing channels [his employer] established.”

In other words, he knew the EEOC deadline to file but ignored it in favor of attempts at self-help. The plaintiff described his conduct as “commendable” and “model behavior” since such behavior may help prevent the EEOC from becoming “overwhelmed.” Commendable as it may have been, it’s not one of the “equitable tolling principles,” and the court could not find any case law saying otherwise.

Case dismissed, and a reminder not to overlook filing deadlines for pursuing discrimination claims in court.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
Contact Information