Supreme Court Rules for Houston-area Worker and Makes It Harder to Defeat Job Bias Claims

Wright Close & Barger argued Fort Bend County case; Ginsburg delivers opinion

HOUSTON – Appellate lawyers with Houston-based Wright Close & Barger won a unanimous decision from the U.S. Supreme Court for a former Fort Bend County worker who had claimed religious discrimination.

The employee, Lois M. Davis, was fired in 2011 after she was denied time off from a Sunday work assignment to attend church. She sued the county after her firing, alleging religious discrimination and other claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“We are grateful for this important decision, which ensures a fairer system for all victims of employment discrimination. It also clarifies the process for employers and governments,” said Raffi Melkonian, attorney for Ms. Davis and an appellate specialist with Wright Close & Barger. Mr. Melkonian argued the case before the Supreme Court on April 22, 2019, and the decision was delivered on June 3.

Also providing legal counsel are Tom Wright and Russell Hollenbeck of Wright Close & Barger, as well as Brian Fletcher and Pam Karlan of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

The Supreme Court focused on a key aspect of how employment discrimination claims are brought under federal law. Before filing a Title VII lawsuit, employees file “charges” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that spell out their claims. Years into this case, Fort Bend suddenly claimed that Ms. Davis’ EEOC charge was not good enough.

In a 9-0 opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court rejected Fort Bend County’s argument that it could challenge whether Ms. Davis had followed all steps of the EEOC process at this late stage of the litigation.

“I am thrilled with the court’s decision,” said Ms. Davis, who had worked for the county as an information technology employee. “I am not trying to get my old job back, but I’m happy to know that this will mean a fairer route for other employees who claim discrimination.”

Ms. Davis’ claim is now cleared to move forward through the Texas federal court system. The case sparked numerous amicus briefs including from the NAACP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Center for Workplace Compliance. The Solicitor General’s Office filed an amicus brief supporting Ms. Davis on behalf of the United States and the EEOC.

The case is Fort Bend County v. Davis, case number 18-525, before the Supreme Court of the United States.

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