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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is not easy. In fact, with one clerical misstep, your very good claim or race discrimination or sexual harassment might be lost forever. The entire EEOC process is fraught with peril – kind of like the opening scene to Raiders of the Lost Ark where one little error will result in a poisonous dart being shot at your head, the floor collapsing beneath you, or a giant bolder crashing down to crush you. Am I being dramatic? Sure. But is this an accurate description of the EEOC process? Absolutely.

Before filing a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), or Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), employees must properly file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within either 180 or 300 days depending on what state the conduct occurred. The employee cannot then sue the employer for race/color, religion, gender/sex, LGBTQ+ (gender identity or sexual orientation), national origin, age, or disability discrimination or harassment until the EEOC provides the employee with a Right to Sue Letter. Even with a Right to Sue Letter in hand, the employee’s claims can still fail if the court determines that the worker failed to properly or timely complete the charge form

Our employee’s rights attorneys have addressed the dangers involved with employees attempting the EEOC process of their own many times before.

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And, today, our employment law lawyers bring you another cautionary tale courtesy of Thomas, v. Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, No. 22-1176, 2022 WL 17543703 (7th Cir. Dec. 6, 2022). In this case, Albert Thomas was an accountant employed by the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. Thomas, a black man born in 1956. In 2019 and February 2020, Thomas applied for promotions. While his employer did not promote him, it still required that he perform the same duties of those jobs of those promoted positions but did not give him corresponding pay increases. According to Thomas, “younger, less qualified female non-African American employees” were promoted over him. Thomas further asserted that his employer denied him opportunities to work with software systems based on his older age. Additionally, Thomas reported a coworker calling him a racial epithet, but the employer allowed the racial harassment to continue.

Accepting these facts as true, as the Court does at the pleading state, this should be very good race, age and potentially gender discrimination claims. Nonetheless, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division dismissed the case by granting the employer’s motion to dismiss right after the complaint was filed. Why? The district court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss, holding that Thomas’s charge of discrimination filed with the EOC, which was required to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing his complaint, did not sufficiently cover the claims in his amended complaint.

Thomas filed his charge of discrimination dually with the EEOC and Illinois Department of Human Rights and. Thomas checked boxes for race, sex, retaliation, and age to indicate the forms of discrimination. Confusingly, Thomas identified only “October 26, 2020” as both the earliest and latest dates of discrimination. When Thomas reached the narrative form, he wrote in total:

I began my employment with [the Fund] on or about March 9, 2015. My most current position is Senior Accountant. During my employment with [the Fund], I was subjected to different terms and conditions of employment, including but not limited to, not getting raises like other non[-]black employees. I applied for a promotion and I was not selected. I believe I was discriminated [against] because of my race, black[,] in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964, as amended. I also believe I was discriminated [against] because of my age, 64, (YOB: 1956), in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended.

Id. at *1 (alterations in original).

In dismissing Thomas’s discrimination claims, the District Court held that, because “Thomas’s administrative charge was skeletal and devoid of essential facts,” no claim was administratively exhausted. Id. at *2. The District Court further held that the only date on the charge, October 26, 2020, was not consistent with any event that Thomas plead in his lawsuit. Thus, pursuant to the District Court’s decision, Thomas lost his very good claims because he did not properly provide enough or accurate information on his EEOC charge.

Thomas appealed. Thankfully, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit saved at least some of Thomas’ claims – although not all of them.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit explained the law on this point:

Before suing, Thomas first had to file a charge with the EEOC or its local counterpart. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e) (Title VII); 29 U.S.C. § 626(d) (ADEA); see Chaidez, 937 F.3d at 1004 (Title VII); Tyburski v. City of Chicago, 964 F.3d 590, 601 (7th Cir. 2020) (ADEA). His lawsuit is limited to claims that were in his charge or that are “like or reasonably related to the allegations of the charge and growing out of such allegations.” Chaidez, 937 F.3d at 1004 (quotations and citation omitted). “Courts review the scope of an EEOC charge liberally.” Huri v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook Cnty., 804 F.3d 826, 831 (7th Cir. 2015). But asserting “the same kind of discrimination” in the charge and complaint is not sufficient to relate the two; rather, some factual connection is needed. Chaidez, 937 F.3d at 1005.

Id. at *3.

The Seventh Circuit held that that Thomas’ claims in his lawsuit relating to a discriminatory failure to promote in February 2020 and discriminatory failure to receive pay raises reasonably related to his EEOC charge. The Court of Appeals pointed to the fact that Thomas wrote in the charge that he was “not getting raises” and was “not selected” for a promotion.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also saved Thomas from getting his dates wrong, which had been a big focus for the District Court:

Thomas does not state in the charge that he was denied a promotion in February 2020; the only date he wrote on the charge—not for a specific event—is October 26, 2020.2 Although the Fund insists otherwise, we do not think the absence of the February 2020 date in the charge is dispositive. Thomas’s charge does not need to include “every fact that, individually or in combination, forms the basis” of his suit. Huri, 804 F.3d at 831. The charge asserts a failure to promote, and February 2020 falls within 300 days of the charge. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) (allowing 300 days when “person aggrieved has initially instituted proceedings with a State or local agency”); 29 U.S.C. § 626(d)(1) (same). Thus, Thomas’s charge and complaint “describe the same conduct” (failure to promote) and “implicate the same [company]” (the Fund). Huri, 804 F.3d at 832. (Thomas also mentions a 2019 failure to promote in his complaint, but that falls outside the 300 days, as Thomas appears to concede.)

Id. at *3.

Thus, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit pulled and expanded on a few of the allegations in the EEOC charge to give Thomas a chance. He got lucky. This could have easily gone the other way. Do not rely on luck. To handle your discrimination best, employment law lawyers should assist you ever step of the process, including submitting your charge to the EEOC.

Should I get a lawyer to help me file an EEOC charge?

Yes! All employees that are thinking about filing a charge for discrimination, retaliation, or wrongful termination against their employer should immediately call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical; Employment Law: Avoid Hiring The Wrong Attorney). Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get legal help completing the EEOC charge forms. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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