Think Outside the Box: District Court Reminds Employers to Carefully Review EEOC Charges

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By: Kelly J. Muensterman

Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama issued a decision reminding employers to take care when reviewing and responding to charges of discrimination.

In Payne v. Navigator Credit Union, the defendant employer moved to dismiss the plaintiff employee’s claim for disability retaliation on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Specifically, the employer argued that the plaintiff failed to allege in her EEOC Charge that she was retaliated against, and was precluded from pursuing a retaliation claim in court. When making its argument, the employer pointed out that the plaintiff had not “checked the box” for “retaliation” on her EEOC Charge nor did she use the word “retaliation” when describing how she had allegedly been harmed.  Nevertheless, the court ruled that the plaintiff’s allegation in the charging document that she was terminated shortly after informing her employer of her need to take medical leave for cancer treatment was sufficient to place the employer on notice of the a claim for  retaliation.  

This decision suggests that some courts will grant plaintiffs wide latitude to define their claims in litigation.  Employers facing an agency charge, or that have questions regarding responding to inquiries from administrative employment agencies, should consult with competent counsel.