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Religion discrimination complaint was OK
February 11, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

Rule 8(a), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, does not require an employee to plead all the elements of a prima facie case.

When Christopher Kolupa got fired, he sued claiming it was because of his religion - a violation of Title VII. A federal district judge dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim (Rule 12 (b)(6)), but the 7th Circuit reversed. Kolupa v. Roselle Park District (7th Cir 02/10/2006).

The district judge required:

"that the complaint allege facts corresponding to each aspect of a 'prima facie case' under Title VII. The judge summarized what plaintiffs must prove to make out a prima facie case of religious discrimination and then faulted the complaint for omitting some points. One aspect of a prima facie case is that the employer treated differently persons who are similarly situated except with respect to the protected attribute (race, sex, religion, and so on). See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). The district judge wrote that this complaint is defective because, although Kolupa 'attempts to describe several situations where other Roselle Park District employees allegedly were treated more favorably than [Kolupa], he fails to allege that the employees were similarly situated in their conduct or that any of the [other] employees were [sic] outside of his protected class.' The judge did not explain why a complaint must include such allegations (let alone why a plaintiff must use the indirect McDonnell Douglas method even though direct proof may be available)."

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said:

"It is enough to name the plaintiff and the defendant, state the nature of the grievance, and give a few tidbits (such as the date) that will let the defendant investigate. A full narrative is unnecessary. See, e.g., Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002) . . ..
"The question presented in Swierkiewicz was whether the complaint in a Title VII case must include factual allegations corresponding to each aspect of a prima facie case; the Court held that it need not, writing that '[t]he prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas . . . is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement.' 534 U.S. at 510. Yet the district court dismissed Kolupa’s complaint on the same ground that Swierkiewicz had disapproved. The [Supreme] Court held, and we reiterate, that complaints need not plead facts and need not narrate events that correspond to each aspect of the applicable legal rule. Any decision declaring 'this complaint is deficient because it does not allege X' is a candidate for summary reversal, unless X is on the list in Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b)."

[Read the Swierkiewicz complaint.]

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