In Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, the United State Supreme Court ruled that the EEOC’s Intake Questionnaire adequately meets the requirements of a “Charge” to trigger an employee’s rights to sue his or her employer in court. The plaintiff submitted to the EEOC an Intake Questionnaire with an affidavit contending that her employer was engaging in age discrimination. The EEOC did nothing with the Questionnaire for six months. The employer was not notified and no charge number was assigned. The employee subsequently filed a Charge of Discrimination and proceeded almost directly to court avoiding the EEOC’s conciliation process entirely.
Justice Thomas the former Chairman of the EEOC points out the practical problems with the lack of a clear definition on what constitutes a Charge and the implications on notice to employers. His comments are somewhat ironic since the crux of the problem is the EEOC’s failure to turn the Intake Questionnaire into a Charge of Discrimination and mail it out to the employer. The Court does not hold the EEOC accountable for these administrative failings by allowing a vague assertions to trigger the judicial process:
The implications of the Court’s decision will reach far beyond respondent’s case. Today’s decision does nothing—absolutely nothing—to solve the problem that under the EEOC’s current processes no one can tell, ex ante, whether a particular filing is or is not a charge. Given the Court’s utterly vague criteria, whatever the agency later decides to regard as a charge is a charge—and the statutorily required notice to the employer and conciliation process will be evaded in the future as it has been in this case. The Court’s failure to apply a clear and sensible rule renders its decision of little use in future cases to complainants, employers, or the agency.
The EEOC issued a Memorandum addressing the timeliness of notice to employers noting that an Intake Questionnaire may constitute a Charge if it contains a “clear request for the agency to act.” The Memorandum also notes that notice of a charge must be sent to respondents within 10 days of receiving the charge.
Thanks to Jon Hyman at the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog who has a great analysis of the impact on employers who lose the ability to conciliate claims.