Today, we look at two fresh cases in the employment law realm: Collis Sumbak v. Eaton Corp. (No. 21-11106, 2022 WL 1928777, (11th Cir. June 6, 2022)) and Angela Williams v Illinois Dept. of Human Services (No. 21 C 112, 2022 WL 1988988, (N.D. Ill. June 6, 2022)).
In both of these cases, the employees, Collis Sumbak and Angela Williams, chose to handle their own Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) Charges of Discrimination. In both of these cases, the employees came to regret that decision. Our excellent employment law attorneys have spoken on this issue before (Best Law Read: Read This Before Filing An EEOC Charge), but obviously not everyone has read these posts. If you feel as though you’re being discriminated against at work, you should reach out to our fantastic attorneys and see if we can help. But you need to do so sooner rather than later – if you don’t, you may run into issues with statutes of limitations (Best Law Read: How Long Do I Have To Sue My Employer?).
As some background, all federal anti-discrimination employment laws require that you “exhaust your administrative remedies” before you can sue your employer, including under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”). This means that you must first file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC before you can sue. Only after the EEOC has conducted its full investigation and issued a Dismissal and Notice of Right to Sue (also known as the “Right to Sue” letter or the “RTS”). Our amazing attorneys have written on this topic before too (Best Law Read: New Clarification on 90-Day Statutes of Limitations Contained in EEOC Right to Sue Letters).
Angela Williams worked for the Illinois Department of Human Services and notably, is disabled. She had reasonable accommodations with the Department during her employment. (Best Law Read: How Do I Discuss A Reasonable Accommodation With My Employer? I Need The Top Disability Discrimination Attorney In Ohio!). Later in Ms. Williams’ employment, she wanted to transfer to another job within the Department. She applied but was unfortunately not chosen for the role. Feeling that she was passed over discriminatorily because of her disabilities, she filed a Charge with the EEOC. In the Charge, Ms. Williams alleged that she had been discriminated against when the Department rescinded one of her and accommodations and placed her on an involuntary medical leave. (Best Law Read: Can My Employer Rescind My ADA Accommodation?). After the EEOC completed its investigation and issued her an RTS (Best Law Read: Can The EEOC Stop My Boss From Discriminating Against Me? Unlikely! Get A Top Employment Lawyer In Ohio Attorney!), she sued the Department for disability discrimination.
In the EEOC Charge of Discrimination Ms. Williams filed, she alleged that the Department had rescinded a previously approved and used reasonable accommodation and placed her on an involuntary medical leave as a result. However, in her Complaint filing the lawsuit, Ms. Williams alleged that the Department had intentionally changed the essential job functions (Read Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer Reply: What Is An Essential Job Function?) of the position specifically so the Department could reject her application for the role in violation of the ADA.
Per the Court in Williams, “[f]or a plaintiff to proceed on a claim not raised in an EEOC charge, there must be a reasonable relationship between the allegations in the charge and the claims in the complaint, and it must appear that the claim in the complaint can reasonably be expected to grow out of an EEOC investigation of the allegations in the charge.” Jones v. Res-Care, Inc., 613 F.3d 665, 670 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Such claims must be “like or reasonably related to the administrative charges.” Reynolds v. Tangherlini, 737 F.3d 1093, 1102 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Court ended up finding against Ms. Williams – she was not allowed to proceed with her failure to promote claim against the Department because she failed to file specific legal requirements in filling out the charge. (though luckily, she may still be able to proceed forward on the discrimination and failure to accommodate claims she did assert in the EEOC Charge after she amends her Complaint).
Let’s consider another example. Collis Sumbak worked for Eaton, a power management company, as production tech in California. Mr. Sumbak was originally born in Sudan and filed a lawsuit against Eaton for race/color and national origin discrimination, including a hostile working environment (Best Law Read: What Is A Hostile Work Environment?), failure to promote him, and retaliation under Title VII. Importantly, Mr. Sumbak did not have any sort of college degree, but does have a high school degree or equivalent. In his Complaint, Mr. Sumbak alleged that, despite that he was in the highest possible salary band (called “SG38”) for his role, he wished to be promoted to an SG40 band (a higher salary band at Eaton) role. SG40 roles are rare at Eaton, they are usually only created when the company has specific need of a new position. Eaton created a new tester position (an SG40 band role) in 2016, but Mr. Sumbak did not apply to it thinking that, as an electrician, he was not able to perform the testing part of the role – he felt he was unqualified.
In 2017, Mr. Sumbak filed a written complaint with Eaton’s CEO alleging he felt discriminated against for his national origin in the failure to promote him to the SG40 tester role. He also cited that his supervisor said he should “be happy” at his current payrate because of his lack of college degree. Apparently, Eaton’s CEO never received this letter.
In March 2018, Mr. Sumbak filed a Charge Discrimination with the EEOC. In the Charge, he alleged that he was discriminated against when Eaton gave him a “P” rating (effectively, a satisfactory rating) on a recent performance evaluation, that he was wrongfully denied a transfer to a different site, was removed from his previous tech role and replaced by a less qualified White employee, and that he was prevented from working overtime going forward without reason. By the end of the year, the EEOC issued Mr. Sumbak the RTS letter.
After Mr. Sumbak went to court, Eaton filed a motion for summary judgment (effectively the same as a motion to dismiss – follow this link for more information on the legal minutia of “summary judgment”). The Court granted the motion because his hostile work environment claim failed as “it fell outside the scope of the EEOC charge.” Sumbak v. Eaton at *3. Even worse, the Court found that Mr. Sumbak had filed his EEOC too late – the events relevant to his lawsuit occurred too far in the past to be covered by his EEOC Charge. The EEOC requires all Charges of Discrimination to be filed within 180-days of the events – though this timeline is expanded to 300 days in some jurisdictions for certain types of claims. (Best Law Read: How Long Do I Have To Sue My Employer?).
See the issue in these cases? The plaintiffs’ Charges of Discrimination didn’t include all the discrimination they faced at work in the particular manner required by the EEOC. Had these two spoken with employment law attorneys to help file their EEOC Charges, their attorneys could have properly and timely included all of the discrimination, not just some. We can’t know if they would have won in the long run (and Ms. Williams’ case is still ongoing now), but if they had gotten all of their claims in front of the EEOC, at least they would have had a fighting chance. This is why it’s so important you call the right attorney to help.
How do I find an attorney to help me file a charge with the EEOC?
Best Employment Lawyer Answer: If you are contemplating filing a charge with the EEOC because you are being discriminated or harassed at work because of your race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability, don’t try and do it alone. As you can see, there are a lot of trap doors in the process that could immediately cause you to lose or severely limit your claims. No blog can address the specifics of your situation. Thus, it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?) Call our lawyers in Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Toledo, Cincinnati, Raleigh to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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