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How Important is My EEOC Charge in an Employment Discrimination Claim?

Any employee who believes they have been subjected to discrimination or retaliation in the workplace is required to first exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit in federal court. What does that mean? Exhaustion of remedies in an employment discrimination case refers to filing a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you do not take this preliminary step, your claims may be dismissed from court. However, how your EEOC charge is drafted makes a huge difference when it comes to protecting your claims. Let our Birmingham employment lawyers help you preserve your rights from the beginning.


Exhaustion of Remedies with the EEOC


In order to comply with the exhaustion of remedies requirement, the first step is to file an EEOC charge within 180 days of the employment action you allege is unlawful. An EEOC charge of discrimination is a signed statement claiming that an employer engaged in employment discrimination and asks the EEOC to take action to investigate and remedy the discrimination. The federal protection laws enforced by the EEOC, with the exception of the Equal Pay Act, require that an EEOC charge is filed before a lawsuit can be.


Interpreting the Claims in an EEOC Charge


Here is an example of a case where the employer argued the EEOC charge was not sufficient to comply with the exhaustion of remedies requirement, but the court disagreed. The employee worked as a bistro manager and accused her supervisor of sexual harassment. Specifically, she alleged that he subjected her to unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, and sexual comments. The employee reported the conduct to another supervisor and alleges that she was then subjected to retaliatory action. After her complaint, she was required to close the bistro alone, which was a very difficult task. The increased workload led to her being hospitalized for hypertension. She was ultimately terminated for insubordination.


Allegations Regarding the Drafting of the EEOC Charge


The employee filed her EEOC charge in April and then amended it in July. When she completed the EEOC charge form, she only checked the boxes for race and sex discrimination. She did not check the box for retaliation. When she later filed suit, she brought claims for sex discrimination and retaliation, which the employer challenged because she did not check the box indicating retaliation.


The Court Ruled the Retaliation Claim Would Stand


The Defendant argued that the employee’s retaliation claim should be dismissed because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with regard to that claim. The federal district disagreed for several reasons. First, the court stated that Title VII does not actually require a claimant to check specific boxes in order to exhaust their administrative remedies. The court also noted the employee is not required to state a prima facie case for each claim. Instead, the employee’s federal claim filed in court must only be “reasonably related” to the allegations in the
EEOC charge. Also, based on the language in the charge at issue in this case, a retaliation claim could “reasonably be expected to grow out of the investigation.”


If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!