Swearing Is No Big Deal At Least When Filing An EEOC Complaint
It is okay to file now and swear later. The Supreme Court said as much recently in the decision Edelman v. Lynchburg College, 2002 U.S. LEXIS 1935, 122 S.Ct. 1145 (2002). Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a claimant must file a verified discrimination charge with the EEOC within a specific timeframe. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). In Edelman, the Court reviewed the legitimacy of an EEOC regulation permitting claimants to verify their discrimination charge even after the expiration of the filing period.
In Edelman, the plaintiff submitted a letter complaining about discrimination to the EEOC before the expiration of the period for filing a charge, however, the plaintiff did not verify the letter until after the filing deadline expired. When the plaintiff subsequently filed a civil action, the defendant moved to dismiss the suit claiming that the plaintiff's failure to file a verified charge before the deadline was a bar to the suit. The plaintiff sought to rely upon an EEOC regulation which allowed his verification to relate back to the filing of his original charge. See 29 CFR § 1601.12(b) (1997). The District Court dismissed the suit. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that Title VII's plain language regarding the appropriate filing deadline for a charge of discrimination "foreclosed the EEOC regulation allowing a later oath to relate back to an earlier charge."
The Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit's decision, finding that although one provision of Title VII stated that a charge must be verified and another provision stated that the charge had to be filed within a given period, neither provision stated whether a charge had to be verified when filed. The Court refused to read the two provisions as one, holding that "... doing that would ignore the two quite different objectives of the timing and verification requirements ..." The Court explained that the function of the time limitation provision is to encourage potential claimants to file their complaints "... before [they] get stale, for the sake of a reliable result and a speedy end to any illegal practice ..." By contrast, the objective of the verification process is to protect employers from charges lacking merit by requiring that claimants adhere to the additional process of swearing an oath. In addition, the Court reasoned that "[c]onstruing [Title VII] to permit the relation back of an oath omitted from an original filing ensures that the lay complainant, who may not know enough to verify on filing, will not risk forfeiting his rights inadvertently."
The Court rejected the defendant's suggestion that the EEOC had exceeded its limited authority to adopt "suitable procedural regulations," holding that the relation back regulation was within the agency's authority. The Court also found that the EEOC's procedure was reasonable, notwithstanding the defendant's argument to the contrary. Finally, the Court noted that the acceptance of oaths, which are filed subsequent to a particular pleading and after a filing deadline, enjoyed wide-spread support within the practice of law.