Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: Should I file a charge with the EEOC or bring state law wrongful termination claims? How do I file a charge with the EEOC? Can federal employees bring state law discrimination claims?
In most cases, filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC“) is a prerequisite to bringing a complaint in federal court for employment discrimination. Whether to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or to pursue state law anti-discrimination claims can be a complicated decision. Ohio, like most states, has a state law analog (R.C. § 4112.02(A)) to the federal statutes enforced by the EEOC (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA“), Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA“), Equal Pay Act (“EPA“), Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA“)). What this means is victims of employment discrimination, such as race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, or disability discrimination, often have the ability to choose the jurisdiction for their claim.
The assistance of experienced employment discrimination attorneys can be invaluable in making the decision whether to pursue federal claims, state law claims, or both. For example, while employees of the federal government enjoy some protections not afforded private sector employees, before bringing a lawsuit for employment discrimination, a federal employee must navigate a byzantine set of prerequisites, and ultimately must file a charge with the EEOC. While Ohio’s anti-discrimination statute generally offers a much longer statute of limitations than respective federal statutes, other considerations should go into making the determination of whether to pursue charges at the state or federal level. An employment lawyer may advise pursuing a federal claim because the county in which an employee was discriminated against is notoriously pro-employer. Sometimes, an attorney will advise an employee to bring an EEOC charge because the matter is one that is particularly well-suited for mediation and the EEOC offers free mediation. And, our employment law lawyers have blogged about the delays and other problems with going it alone with the EEOC. (See Should I File With The EEOC Or Should I Get My Own Lawyer? Best Employment Discrimination Law Reply!; Top Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This First).
Even when the determination to file a charge with the EEOC is clear-cut, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of your employment attorney in the actual charge filing. Drescher v. Clinton City, recently decided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah illustrates the hazards faced by an aggrieved employee who chooses to go it alone.
After being terminated by the Clinton City Fire Department, Shelley Drescher filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. In her charge, Drescher stated, “I believe that I have been discriminated against on the basis of my sex/female in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Similarly situated males were not treated as I was treated and they were given opportunities and favorable treatment to be successful in their careers.” When Drescher eventually filed suit, Clinton City moved to dismiss Drescher’s claims of sexual harassment and retaliation, on the basis that Drescher did not include those claims in her EEOC charge. Dresher countered that (1) her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation were reasonably related to the claims laid out in her EEOC charge, and (2) even if they were not, her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation were detailed in her EEOC Intake Questionnaire.
The court correctly noted that Title VII requires that “each discrete act of discrimination to be described in, and the subject of, a timely filed charge… Each discrete incident of discriminatory or retaliatory conduct by an employer constitutes its own ‘unlawful employment practice’ for which administrative remedies must be exhausted. Here, Plaintiff did not describe any allegations of sexual harassment or retaliation in her Charge.”
However, even though Ms. Drescher’s charge itself was silent as to allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation, because she did include those allegations in her intake questionnaire, those allegations could be considered incorporated into her charge. The court determined that a document collateral to the actual agency charge can be effectively considered part of the charge itself, when:
it (i) provides the minimum information the regulations require, and (ii) can be reasonably construed as a request for the agency to take remedial action to protect the employee’s rights or otherwise settle a dispute between the employer and employee…When taken as a whole, Plaintiff’s filings with the EEOC on approximately March 27, 2013, can reasonably be construed to be a request for agency action and therefore a Charge. Plaintiff’s Intake Questionnaire contained all of the information required by 29 C.F.R. §1601.12(a). In addition, the Intake Questionnaire filled out by Plaintiff requested that the complainant to attach additional sheets if needed to describe what she believed was discriminatory and why. Plaintiff sent a six-page addendum, describing her situation in detail. In addition to her allegations of gender discrimination, she described in multiple places throughout the addendum her allegations of retaliation, and she provided significant detail regarding what she perceived to be sexual harassment. Among other things, she stated that two of the fire fighters constantly made sexual jokes . . .’that were so crude it made me very uncomfortable. My discomfort with their jokes and comments increased as time went on especially when they would talk about our patients and how they were trying to look down the female patients’ shirts or even how they wished the patients’ injuries required them to cut the female patients’ clothing off so they could get a better look at her. It got so bad that for a few of my shifts when I knew I was scheduled to work with both of them . . . I would try and trade the shift[,] and if I couldn’t trade it[,] I would call in because I just couldn’t deal with how bad they treated me anymore.’ The allegations in this case are of such a nature that it is reasonable to construe it as a request for agency action.
M. Dresher was fortunate. Because she included the allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation in her intake, along with specific facts supporting those allegations, those allegations were considered included in her charge and she was allowed to proceed on those claims in her lawsuit. However, had Ms. Dresher’s intake questionnaire been as bare bones as the charge itself, she would have been limited only to her more generalized claim of gender discrimination.
The lesson in Drescher is clear. Even an act as simple as the filing of an EEOC charge can have significant ramifications on an employee’s rights and it is imperative that an employee consult with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer every step of the way.
If you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against based on my …” race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 291-4744. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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