Timing Issues on the Clock, as Justices Take on Two Bias Cases

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By Kevin McGowan

Employees who missed deadlines for filing discrimination lawsuits or appealing dismissals could get reprieves in two cases the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review.

In one case, the justices will address how long workers can wait to file in state court lawsuits alleging discrimination or retaliation after a federal trial court had dismissed their parallel federal bias clams and declined to rule on the state law claims.

The court Feb. 27 agreed to review a D.C. Court of Appeals decision that dismissed a former D.C. health department employee’s retaliation lawsuit on grounds that it wasn’t filed in a timely manner ( Artis v. D.C., U.S., No. 16-460, review granted 2/27/17 ).

Workers alleging discrimination often bundle their federal and state law claims in a single lawsuit filed in federal district court.

If the district court denies the federal claims, it then must decide whether to exercise “supplemental jurisdiction” over the state law claims. Federal judges under those circumstances frequently decide not to consider the state law claims, leaving plaintiffs free to file new lawsuits in state court raising those claims. The District of Columbia is considered a “state” for such purposes.

Courts Split on Time to File

Various federal and state appeals courts disagree on how long employees may wait to file state court lawsuits after federal courts dismiss their federal claims.

The D.C. Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court and other intermediate appeals say plaintiffs in bias cases must file their new lawsuits within 30 days of the federal court dismissal, regardless of how long the state law deadline might be.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the top state courts in Maryland and Missouri allow discrimination plaintiffs more than 30 days to file their new state court lawsuits if the relevant state law permits a longer period.

Can Appeals Deadline Be Extended?

The justices separately agreed to review if a former Chicago nonprofit housing agency employee can revive her appeal of age and sex bias claims ( Hamer v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of Chicago, U.S., No. 16-658, review granted 2/27/17 ).

A federal district court dismissed Charmaine Hamer’s claims that Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago filed to promote her because of discrimination and fired her after she complained. The district court granted Hamer a 60-day extension of the deadline for appealing its decision, and Hamer filed an appeal within that period.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, however, decided it lacked power to decide her appeal. It said that under federal rules of appellate procedure, the district court couldn’t grant extensions of more than 30 days.

Hamer asked the justices to rule that a federal appeals court can decide the merits of a worker’s appeal from an adverse bias ruling if there are good reasons to excuse a late filing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin McGowan in Washington at kmcgowan@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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