Stewart v. Iancu (P)

Contrary to the district court’s holding, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c)’s 180-day waiting period operates independently of the intake agency’s extended investigation window for amended complaints. Accordingly, the 180-day waiting period for filing a civil action, absent agency final action, begins with the filing of the initial administrative complaint, regardless of subsequent amendments to that complaint.

Regarding the question whether the waiting period is a jurisdictional bar (a first-impression issue in this circuit), the district court incorrectly held that it was. Instead, the waiting period functions more like a mandatory procedural hurdle for litigants than an affirmative agency step potentially giving rise to a remedy on review. The 180-day waiting period is not jurisdictional.

In this case, the claimant’s amendments of his complaint did not restart the 180-day clock. His waiting period began on the date he filed his “initial,” formal administrative complaint of discrimination and retaliation. Allowing agencies to repeatedly delay individuals’ ability to go to court, simply because they have amended their administrative complaints, would frustrate a congressional policy to make the courts the final tribunal for the resolution of controversies over charges of discrimination after all administrative remedies have been exhausted. This conclusion also comports with the broader purpose of Title VII as a remedial scheme in which laypersons, rather than lawyers, are expected to initiate the process.

Finally, plaintiffs may bring Title VII claims for the first time before a district court, so long as they are like or reasonably related to charges in the original administrative complaint, and if they reasonably could have developed from the agency’s investigation of the original complaint.

Reversed and remanded.

Stewart v. Iancu (P), No. 17-1815, Jan. 8, 2019. 4th Cir. (Wynn) from EDVA at Alexandria (Brinkema).

Categories: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Opinions, Published

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