Texas Court of Appeals Says Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction Over Untimely Age Discrimination Claim

Like other types of lawsuits and claims, cases involving allegations of employment discrimination have certain deadlines that, if not met, can be fatal to a would-be plaintiff’s claim. Of course, whether or not the dismissal of a case is mandatory in, for example, a Dallas age discrimination lawsuit that is not timely filed is ultimately a matter for the courts to decide.

Generally speaking, the burden is on the plaintiff to convince the court that his or her case meets some specific exception to the general rule establishing the deadline for filing a claim. However, unless a defendant asserts an aggressive defense, the case is not likely to “go away” on its own, even if it is untimely.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a woman who was fired by the defendant employer on January 15, 2015. She filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on September 24, 2015, alleging that she had been a victim of age discrimination in violation of Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code (also known as the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA)). In May 2016, the plaintiff filed suit in court.

The defendant filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the trial court, asserting that the plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed due to her failure to exhaust her administrative remedies. Specifically, the defendant pointed out that the plaintiff had not filed her charge within the 180-day deadline required under § 21.202(a) of the Act. The trial court granted the defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction of the court and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District at Austin affirmed the lower court’s ruling, holding that the lower tribunal did not err in granting the defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction of the court. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the 180-day deadline contained in the Act, “while mandatory, is not jurisdictional.” In so arguing, the plaintiff pointed out that several courts have expressed uncertainty as to whether a plaintiff’s failure to exhaust his or her administrative remedies under the Act is a jurisdictional bar to suit.

The court of appeals declined the invitation to expressly hold that the 180-day deadline is a statutory prerequisite that is jurisdictional in lawsuits involving private litigants, holding instead that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims in the case at bar. In so ruling, the court stated that the Texas Supreme Court may soon be asked to characterize the 180-day deadline as jurisdictional, but, “unless and until that occurs…or a statutory directive from the Legislature,” the court was bound by existing precedent.

Get Advice About a Dallas Employment Discrimination Allegation

Claims of age, race, or gender discrimination can be costly to a business. Even when the claim is completely without merit (or, as in the case discussed above, untimely), the defendant must take an assertive approach. To speak to an experienced Dallas employment discrimination attorney about a claim against your business or workplace, call Key Harrington Barnes today at 214-615-7925. We will be glad to set up an appointment for you to come in and discuss your situation in more detail so that we can get started on formulating an effective defense under your particular circumstances.

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