Title VII Requires Administrative Exhaustion
Before an employee alleging employment discrimination under Title VII may file a lawsuit in federal court, she must first exhaust administrative remedies by bringing formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or an equivalent state agency. This administrative-exhaustion process is designed to allow the EEOC to step in, and also gives the parties an opportunity at early settlement. If the EEOC decides not to take the case, it must issue a “right-to-sue letter,” which is evidence that the administrative exhaustion requirement has been satisfied. The employee then has 90 days to file suit.
There has long been a circuit split on how to treat discrimination claims that were never raised with the EEOC but later find their way into a plaintiff’s lawsuit. Several appeals courts treated this failure as an affirmative defense that could be waived by the employer if not timely asserted. The competing approach was to treat administrative exhaustion as a jurisdictional requirement. Meaning the defense could not be waived, thereby permitting employers (and the court) to raise the issue at any time. Prior to the Supreme Court weighing in the on the matter, the Eleventh Circuit fell into the latter camp. See, e.g., Bloodworth v. Colvin, 17 F. Supp. 3d 1245, 1250 (N.D. Ga. 2014) (“[I]n the Eleventh Circuit, administrative exhaustion is a jurisdictional prerequisite to Title VII actions.”) (citing Crawford v. Babbitt, 186 F.3d 1322, 1326 (11th Cir.1999)).