What is the deadline to make a claim of employment discrimination?

If your employer has discriminated against you do you have to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? If so, how long do you have to do it?

In Texas, the default rule is that an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason. This is called employment-at-will. However, certain federal and state statutes place limitations on the employment-at-will doctrine by prohibiting employment discrimination, preventing employers from basing their employment decisions—hiring, firing, promoting, and paying—on an employee belonging to a protected class.

Protected classes are listed in various statutes. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin. The American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability. Similarly, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees over the age of 40 from discrimination.

Before these federal statutes, the federal prohibition on employment discrimination began with an Executive Order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that prohibited discrimination in federal government contractors. However, until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964, private employees had no legal recourse if they were adversely affected by discrimination in the workplace.

Statutes like Title VII have their own enforcement procedures that employees must take advantage of before bringing their claim to court. An employee who has been discriminated against because of his race must first file a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal administrative agency that investigates discrimination claims and enforces discrimination laws.

In Texas, an employee has 300 days from the last discriminatory act to file a complaint with the EEOC. The last discriminatory act is when the alleged discrimination actually occurred, or when the employee learns of the alleged discrimination. For example, if an employee if fired because of his race, the 300-day time limit begins to run on the day he was fired.

Texas has adopted the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) as a state version of federal employment statutes. The TCHRA protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, age, or genetic information. Under the TCHRA, an employee has 180 days to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission.