Can an employment agreement entered into at the start of the employment relationship mandate that an employee file any claim she may have under Title VII within six months? Sure. Is it enforceable? Nope, said the Sixth Circuit recently in Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino, No. 18-1381 (9/25/19).
Logan worked for MGM Grand Detroit Casino (MGM) as a culinary utility worker. At the start of her employment, she entered into an employment agreement which stated, in part, that she agreed to bring any claim or lawsuit arising out of her employment with MGM within six months of the date of the employment action at issue and waived any statute of limitations to the contrary.
Logan quit her job with MGM several years later. 216 days after resigning, she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that she faced discrimination on the basis of her sex and retaliation in violation of Title VII while working for MGM. (As the Court recognized, the claim accrued in Michigan, which has a state fair employment practices law similar to Title VII.) The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter, and Logan filed suit on day 440 after resigning.
MGM sought to enforce the Title VII statute of limitations waiver. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment for MGM.
Logan appealed, and the Sixth Circuit reversed. The Court of Appeals discussed Title VII’s statutory enforcement scheme. In particular, it pointed out that Title VII contains a 180-day limitation period that extends to 300 days in deferral jurisdictions (i.e., where state or local law also prohibits the unlawful employment practice alleged, such as in Michigan) and encourages cooperation among parties and voluntary compliance with its provisions by employers. It found that the self-contained limitation period in Title VII is a substantive right and cannot be waived prospectively, distinguishing Logan’s agreement from a situation where an employee waives a substantive Title VII right retroactively such as by settlement agreement and distinguishing Title VII from other statutes without self-contained limitation periods such as § 1981. Altering the limitation period in Title VII, the Court continued, “remov[es] the incentive of employers to cooperate with the EEOC, and encourag[es] litigation that gives short shrift to pre-suit investigation and potential resolution of disputes through the EEOC and analog state and local agencies.”
Like in Logan, Maryland has state and local laws providing for similar protections to employees as those afforded under Title VII. As a result, aggrieved individuals in Maryland generally have up to 300 days from the date of an alleged act of discrimination to file charges of discrimination under Title VII. Indeed, Maryland courts have recognized that “‘parties may agree to a provision that modifies the limitations result that would otherwise pertain provided  there is no controlling statute to the contrary[.]’” Wilkerson v. Fed. Express, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59708, at *11 (D. Md. June 2, 2011) (quoting Md. Inc. v. Morabito Consultants, Inc., 132 Md. App. 158, 174 (2000)) (finding no apparent statutes preventing employer and employee from contractually agreeing prospectively to a timeframe in which to file any § 1981 claims).