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A federal appellate panel, surprising the local employment bar and stirring concern throughout the country, has tossed out a $7 million job bias verdict because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed to spend 180 days investigating the complaint before authorizing the alleged victim to sue in federal court.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that early right-to-sue notices–which the severely backlogged EEOC has been issuing for more than two decades–violate the agency’s statutory duty to investigate and attempt to resolve complaints under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 within 180 days of their filing.

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