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Employer’s Violation of EEOC Notice Posting Requirements May Excuse Employee’s Failure to File Charge in Timely Manner

Volume 4, Issue 11
September 9, 2005

In Mercado v. The Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino, 410 F.3d 41 (1st Cir. 2005), Plaintiffs Marcus Mercado and Suzanne Hebert-Jomp claimed that they experienced unlawful discrimination during their employment with the Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar Puerto Rico laws. Before filing suit under Title VII, individuals must file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") within a specified time after the alleged unlawful practices occur, which, in "deferral" states like Nevada, is 300 days after such practices. The Plaintiffs in this case failed to file their charges within the statutory period. As a result, the district court dismissed their case.

On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the district court incorrectly refused to give them the benefit of "equitable tolling," a legal doctrine whereby a limitations period is extended for good reason. The Plaintiffs claimed not to have known of their legal right to be free from the type of discrimination that they were allegedly subjected to because their employer failed to comply with EEOC regulations requiring posting of notices advising employees of their legal rights relating to discrimination. They argued that, in view of their employer's failure to post the required notices, the period for filing charges with the EEOC did not begin to run until they received notice of their rights when they met with an attorney. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island) concluded that the Plaintiffs case should not have been dismissed and sent the case back to district court for further proceedings, including factual development of issues pertaining to the issue of equitable tolling. The parties will now have an opportunity to present evidence as to whether or not the Plaintiffs had actual or constructive knowledge of their Title VII rights, whether they were diligent in pursuing those rights, the existence of any possible prejudice to the employer should the limitations period be tolled, and the employees' reasonableness in remaining ignorant of the 300-day filing period.

While the First Circuit Court's decision is not controlling in this jurisdiction, it underscores the importance of posting proper notices describing the federal laws which prohibit discrimination. For more information on the EEOC's notice posting requirements or to order posters containing the requisite information in a variety of languages, please visit the EEOC's website at www.eeoc.gov.

The full decision of the First Circuit Court in Mercado v. The Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino is available at:

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=1st&navby=case&no=041630.

Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.