Colorado, like many other states, has both a state employment discrimination agency, the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD), and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The state and federal agencies have a worksharing agreement in place that authorizes shared responsibilities in reviewing and investigating charges of discrimination. Practically speaking, this means that an employee may file a charge with either the CCRD or EEOC in Colorado, and often times, depending on the workloads, a charge may be passed from one agency to the other for investigation.
However, even though both agencies are empowered to investigate charges, on April 26, 2010, in Rodriquez v. Wet Ink LLC, the Tenth Circuit held that the EEOC must independently terminate its own jurisdiction before an employee has a right to sue in federal court.
Case Facts: Patricia Rodriguez filed charges of discrimination with the CCRD and EEOC, alleging that her supervisor discriminated against her based on her national origin, ancestry and gender, and that she was fired in retaliation for complaining about the discrimination. The CCRD investigated and found no cause for the national origin and retaliation claims, but found merit with the gender discrimination claim and referred the claim to mediation. Following an unsuccessful mediation, Ms. Rodriguez requested a right to sue notice from both the CCRD and EEOC. The CCRD issued its right to sue notice on November 25, 2007. The EEOC then issued its right to sue notice on January 29, 2008. Thereafter, Ms. Rodriguez filed suit in federal district court on April 25, 2008.
Because Ms. Rodriguez filed suit on April 25, 2008 – 5 months after receiving her CCRD right to sue notice, her employer moved to dismiss the case as being time barred. The district court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and let her Title VII claims proceed, holding that the state agency right to sue notice did not trigger the federal filing period because: (1) the worksharing agreement does not authorize the CCRD to issue right to sue notices on behalf of the EEOC; and (2) the CCRD notice did not trigger Title VII’s 90-day limitations period.
Important Takeaway: Employers should carefully scrutinize right to sue notices to ensure that the federal and/or state agencies have terminated their respective jurisdiction. The deadline to file federal claims is triggered only when the EEOC expressly terminates its jurisdiction via an EEOC right to sue notice. Likewise, an employee who receives a CCRD right to sue notice only has a right to file a lawsuit alleging state law claims (unless and until the EEOC issues its right to sue notice or its jurisdiction is otherwise terminated), and must do so within 90 days of receiving the notice.