Pursuing Justice Through Mighty Details
Barkha Patel, Class of 2013
Through the law school’s Appellate Litigation Clinic, Barkha Patel worked to help a woman who felt betrayed by an employer get her day in court.
A highly technical detail had immense implications in the case, which involved a woman seeking to sue an employer for discrimination.
Judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit assigned the woman’s case to the law school’s clinic. Barkha and a classmate accepted the case, which had been partially found in the favor of the employer because the woman allegedly did not submit her complaint within 90 days after receiving a green light to do so from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
The district court ruled that the clock started ticking when the EEOC right-to-sue letter was delivered, not when the woman actually received it, Barkha said, noting it’s impossible to prove when a letter was delivered, especially for those who own post office boxes.
Courts have viewed this small but potent detail in different ways, Barkha explained, adding that while some circuits have established clear guidelines for when the filing period begins, “nothing in the Third Circuit has been consistent.”
When the case went before the court, Barkha drew upon her experience on the championship team that won the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition Mid-Atlantic Super-Region in 2011-2012. As a member of the winning team, Barkha gained experience practicing different styles and strategies for responding to grueling questions.
Barkha and her classmate, Eilleen Somers, successfully persuaded the court that the woman had no way of proving when the letter arrived in the post office box where she receives her mail, a success for the woman and for Barkha who gained valuable experience arguing the case in federal court before she even graduated law school.