Employees Can Sue For Application of Discriminatory Standards That Were Adopted Years Ago; U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Each New Application of Challenged Standards Constitutes a New Cause of Action Under Title VII

If an employer adopts a discriminatory standard 15 years ago and no claim is brought against it, can an employee (or group of employees) file suit years later based upon a more recent application of the discriminatory standard?

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion authorized by Justice Scalia, answered the questions in the affirmative.

Before beginning a Title VII case, the plaintiff must first file a timely EEOC charge of discrimination. In a disparate impact case, the court noted that a claim lies when the employer “uses” a particular employment practice that causes a disparate impact on one of the prohibited bases (race, creed, color, religion, sex, etc.).

In Lewis v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court ruled that while there might have been a separate discrimination claim at the time the city adopted the challenged criteria, there could also be a separate claim when the city applied the criteria years later.

Although the court opened the door for later challenges to allegedly discriminatory employment practices, take note:  claimants must still file an EEOC (or DFEH) clam within the requisite time limits.  If they fail to do so, the claims cannot proceed.

A copy of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Lewis v. City of Chicago is attached for your convenience.

Our firm regularly advises employers and employees on these issues and other concerns related to the workplace.  Feel free to give us a call if you have questions or issues in this area.


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