Thursday, July 1, 2010

6th Circuit weighs in on administrative exhaustion of EEOC charges

Before an employee can file a Title VII lawsuit, the employee must first file a timely administrative charge with the EEOC. As a general rule, an employee cannot bring claims in a lawsuit that were not included in the EEOC charge. However, because employees, and not attorneys, typically file EEOC charges, courts review them liberally, and typically will consider any claims that are reasonably related to or grow out of the factual allegations in the EEOC charge.

In Younis v. Pinnacle Airlines, Inc. (6th Cir. 6/30/10) [pdf], the 6th Circuit explains what it means for a claim to be reasonably related to or grow out of the factual allegations in the charge. In Younis, the employee alleged discrimination and harassment based on religion and national origin, in addition to retaliation. The 6th Circuit upheld the dismissal of the harassment and retaliation claims because the EEOC charge lacked any specific reference to those claims:

The problem in this case is that in his EEOC filing, Younis did not allege a claim of hostile work environment, and he cited only discrete acts of alleged discrimination, limited to three or four isolated comments by his peers that occurred over a three-year period. In order to establish a claim of hostile work environment, however, a plaintiff must present evidence of harassment that “unreasonably interfer[es] with [his] work performance and creat[es] an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” … As a result, we have suggested in several unreported cases that the inclusion in an EEOC charge of a discrete act or acts, standing alone, is insufficient to establish a hostile-work-environment claim for purposes of exhaustion. We now hold that such evidence, cited in an EEOC charge to support a claim of disparate treatment, will not also support a subsequent, uncharged claim of hostile work environment “unless the allegations in the complaint can be reasonably inferred from the facts alleged in the charge.” …

Younis’s retaliation claim suffers from the same deficiency…. The EEOC form included a specific check-off box to indicate a charge of retaliation. Although Younis marked other boxes on the form evincing an intent to charge discrimination based on religion and national origin, he did not indicate that he was alleging retaliation. Moreover, there is nothing in the narrative portion of the EEOC charge that could be interpreted as claiming retaliation, nor is there any language that would have put the EEOC or the employer on notice that Younis was alleging retaliation by Pinnacle.

This ruling shows that courts give serous consideration to whether a plaintiff exhausted all claims with the EEOC. This exhaustion requirement furthers two key policies for employers:

  1. It provides the employer information concerning the conduct about which the employee complains.
  2. It affords the EEOC and the employer an opportunity to settle all disputes through conference, conciliation, and persuasion.

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