In catching up over some interesting employment law cases from 2015, I came across Lennon v. Dolce Vida Medical Spa (download here). You would be forgiven if you missed it because it’s an unreported Superior Court decision on a seemingly-technical issue.
But, if followed by other courts, it has a notable twist.
First, the simple background: In Connecticut, employees must typically file discrimination claims first with the state agency, the Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities before going to court. These claims are, pursuant to a work-sharing agreement with the EEOC, typically cross-filed with the federal agency too.
(For the lawyers out there — yes, you can file first at the EEOC, but the vast majority of claims get filed first at the CHRO.)
In any event, in order to bring suit in court, the employee must obtain a “right-to-sue” letter from the CHRO and, I think many people believed, from the EEOC as well. The employee must then bring suit in court in the following 90 days from receipt.
In the Lennon case, the employee received only the right to sue letter from the CHRO and yet brought both state and federal discrimination claims.
The employer moved to dismiss the federal claims. The Superior Court, however, rejected that motion to dismiss, saying the existence of a work-sharing agreement between the CHRO and the EEOC as well as the fact that the filing requirement is not a jurisdictional bar, does not merit dismissal of the claims here.
[Dismissal is not warranted because of] the plaintiff’s timely compliance with [the state] filing requirement, the nature of the work-sharing agreement in place between the CHRO and the EEOC, the fact that every federal circuit court presented with this issue has decided that obtaining a right-to-sue letter is a precondition rather than a jurisdictional requirement for bringing suit based on EEOC violations, and recent decisions of the district courts of Connecticut holding that a plaintiff who has a release from the CHRO is not required to obtain a duplicate right-to-sue notice from the EEOC….
Fair enough. The court cites some similar federal court cases from Connecticut to support this position as well. (I should note, however, that Superior Court decisions have questionable precedential value according to some so be sure to check with counsel about any use of this case.)
But if that’s going to be the law — that an employee need not wait or get a separate right-to-sue letter from the EEOC before filing suit on both state and federal grounds — what is left unanswered from the case is a different by similar set of facts.
Suppose an employee receives the right-to-sue letter from the CHRO but, for whatever reason, does not file suit in state or federal court in the next 90 days. Months go by and the EEOC then issues its notice of a right-to-sue nearly one year later (which is what happened in the Lennon case). The employee then files suit in federal court on the claims within 90 days.
Are his or her federal claims now time-barred because courts have ruled that the employee could have brought suit with simply a state (CHRO) right-to-sue letter? Are the state law claims revived based on this EEOC letter?
Employers would certainly ope the answers are “no” and “no” but we’ll just have to wait-and-see what the courts do on this. Something tells me that employers shouldn’t get their hopes up too much — at least on the first question.