At midnight on October 1, the federal government shut down for the first time since 1996. With many government offices closed, it is important that you know what this shutdown means for your employment lawsuit.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is closed, but is still offering limited services, including the accepting of charges of discrimination for filing. The EEOC advises that the time limits for filing a charge of discrimination (which is generally 180 days if you live in Georgia) “may not be extended because of the shut-down.” Thus, it is important that you not delay filing a charge of discrimination, despite the shutdown. The EEOC will not, however, be investigating charges during the shutdown, nor will it be responding to questions or correspondence or processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. You can get more information about the EEOC’s operations by reviewing its shutdown contingency plan.
The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which handles federal employees’ appeals, has ceased operations during the shutdown. However, the MSPB states that filing and processing deadlines relating to appeals will automatically be extended by the number of days the government is shutdown. Hearings and conferences scheduled with judges will be postponed and rescheduled once the government resumes operations.
Federal courts are considered “essential” services and therefore will remain operational during the shutdown. Thus, deadlines for filing lawsuits will not be extended or otherwise affected by the shutdown. If the shutdown continues for an extended period of time, some judicial staffers may be furloughed, so processing and response times may be slower than usual.
During the government shutdown, you should continue to prepare and investigate your claims, file your EEOC charge (particularly if you are approaching the 180-day deadline to do so), and, if you have already received your right to sue notice, file your lawsuit. Do not assume that any deadlines will be extended (except where an agency, such as the MSPB, has explicitly stated they will be) or that any requirements are waived or inapplicable because of the shutdown. If you have any questions or are unsure about how to proceed during the shutdown, contact an employment lawyer today.