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EEOC discrimination suits must be filed within 90 days.

CASE ON POINT: Simmons v. Univ. Med. Ctr., No. 2CA-CV 2005-021 (Ariz. App. Div.2 5/9/2006)

ISSUE: In order to address the problem of discrimination in employment based on race, sex, religious belief; and other personal beliefs, the congress of the United States enacted legislation which prohibited such discrimination and allowed the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). One of the purposes of the EEOC is to review cases of alleged discrimination brought to its attention and make a determination as to whether a complaint is meritorious or not. If the EEOC determines that a case is meritorious it may, inter alia, issue a "right to sue" letter to the claimant enabling the claimant to file suit for the alleged discrimination in either federal or state court. However, since the right to sue is not a common law right, but strictly statutory in nature, the right to sue expires alter ninety days from the date indicated on the "right to sue" letter.

CASE FACTS: University Medical Center hired Alice Simmons as a registered nurse in January of 2004. Nurse Simmons worked for three days before the hospital terminated her employment. On April 26, 2004, the nurse filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) through the Arizona Attorney General Civil Rights Division, alleging that the hospital had discriminated against her by firing her based on her race. The EEOC received the charge on May 3, 2004. On May 25, the EEOC mailed the nurse a notice of dismissal and right to sue. That notice informed her she could "file a lawsuit against the hospital under federal law based on the charge in federal or state court and that any lawsuit "must be filed within 90 days of your receipt of the Notice; or your right to sue based on this charge will be lost." Nurse Simmons sued the hospital in Pima County Superior Court on May 3, 2004, alleging that it had violated Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act by terminating her employment solely because of her race and "not on the basis of negligence or malpractice." In her complaint, the nurse asserted that she had made "no medication errors" or "charting errors," there had been no "threat of loss of life or limb to any of the patients assigned to her," and the hospital had "not contacted the state boards of Nursing in Arizona or Texas disclosing any negligence or malpractice." The hospital moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the suit had not timely been filed because more than ninety days had passed since she had received the May 25, 2004, notice of her right to sue from the EEOC. The trial court granted the motion. Nurse Simmons appealed.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeals of Arizona affirmed the dismissal of Nurse Simmons' case by the trial court. The court held, inter alia, that the failure to file suit within the ninety day period set forth in the EEOC's "right to sue" letter was the sine qua non of the nurse's right to sue. When the ninety-day period expired, the right to sue expired with it. In this case the EEOC did not make a decision as to whether or not the nurse had a valid claim of discrimination. However, without deciding the merit or lack of merit of the nurse's claim, it granted the nurse standing to sue the hospital in either federal or state court within ninety days. Nurse Simmons' failure to file suit within the ninety-day period is analogous to a failure to file suit within an applicable statute of limitations. Her claim, however meritorious, is without any legal redress.

LEGAL COMMENTARY: The ninety-day time limit prescribed by federal law is not a jurisdictional prerequisite, but a statute of limitations. The court noted that the nurse did not dispute the tact that she received the notice of her right to sue from the EEOC dated May 25, 2004, and admitted that she did not file suit within ninety days of receiving that notice. Accordingly, the trial court as well as the appellate court had no alternative but to dismiss her claim. Editor's Note: The case, as reported jails to indicate why the nurse Jailed to file suit within the ninety-day period. Was it a misunderstanding on the part of the nurse? Was it a misunderstanding of the law on the part of the attorney representing the nurse? Whatever the reason, the case illustrates how important it is to follow the law pursuant to which suits' are brought. The right to sue under the federal law is a right created by statute, Accordingly prospective plaintiffs" and their attorneys must follow with specificity the law as written.. The case further illustrates that it may be prudent to engage counsel at the earliest stage to ensure that there is no misunderstanding or delay on the part of the prospective plaintiff regarding the time in which suit must be initiated. Further it is strongly recommended that prospective plaintiffs in such cases engage counsel who either concentrate in or have extensive experience in representing parties in cases involving allegations of discrimination. Unfortunately, the case as reported by the court, failed to divulge the reason the hospital relied on to terminate the nurse's employment. Had the nurse brought suit in a timely manner the court in deciding the merit or lack of merit of the case, would have scrutinized the hospital's reason for terminating the nurse.
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Title Annotation:Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, University Medical Center
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:May 1, 2006
Previous Article:MI: nurse practictioner's affidavit of merit: sufficient only as 'prerequisite' to filing suit.
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