Topic: "Procedure" | Main
US Supreme Court grants cert in MSPB appeal jurisdiction case
January 13, 2012 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Today the US Supreme Court granted certiorari in Kloeckner v. Solis (US Supreme Ct cert granted 01/13/2012)
Kloeckner appealed the Merit Systems Protection Board's (MSPB) final order of dismissal as untimely to the District of Columbia District Court, which transferred venue to the Eastern District of Missouri. The trial court dismissed on the ground that the Federal Circuit had exclusive subject matter jurisdiction. The 8th Circuit affirmed.
The jurisdictional issue turned on the meaning of the term"[c]ases of discrimination" in 5 USC Section 7703(b)(2).
The 8th Circuit held that petitions to review MSPB's final decisions must be filed in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit unless the MSPB decided discrimination issues on the merits.
The 2nd and 10th Circuits hold that cases of discrimination shall be filed in district court as required by Title VII, regardless of whether the MSPB's decision was on the merits.
The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the 8th Circuit judgment.
SCOTUS grants cert on federal employment jurisdiction issue
October 17, 2011 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
This morning the US Supreme Court granted certiorari in Elgin v. The Department of the Treasury, which raises the issue of whether the Civil Service Reform Act precludes federal district court from having jurisdiction over constitutional claims for equitable relief brought by federal employees.
A federal statute bars employment in the executive branch of male citizens who failed to register for the draft. Elgin, who had been discharged from his job, sued claiming that the statute is unconstitutional. The federal district court ruled against Elgin on the merits. The 1st Circuit (2-1) affirmed on a different ground, finding that the district court lacked jurisdiction.
The 1st Circuit held that the exclusive remedy for discharge was provided by the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA). The procedural route prescribed by the CSRA is by appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board and, if dissatisfied with the result, appeal to the Federal Circuit, whose decisions in turn are reviewable by the Supreme Court.
The CONCURRENCE argued that the CSRA's remedial scheme did not afford Elgin meaningful review of his colorable constitutional claim for equitable relief, so that the statute did not bar Elgin from seeking relief in federal district court.
The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the 1st Circuit judgment. Oral arguments will be scheduled for sometime in early 2012.
1.5 million member Wal-Mart class cannot be certified
June 20, 2011 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Today the US Supreme Court held that a class of 1.5 million Wal-Mart employees cannot be certified as a Title VII class action suit. Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes (US Supreme Court 06/20/2011).
Current and former Wal-Mart employees sought judgment against the company for injunctive and declaratory relief, punitive damages, and backpay, on behalf of themselves and a nationwide class of some 1.5 million female employees, because of Wal-Mart's alleged discrimination against women in violation of Title VII. They claim that local managers exercise their discretion over pay and promotions disproportionately in favor of men, which has an unlawful disparate impact on female employees; and that Wal-Mart's refusal to cabin its managers' authority amounts to disparate treatment. The District Court certified the class, finding that respondents satisfied Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a), and Rule 23(b)(2)'s requirement of showing that "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole." The Ninth Circuit substantially affirmed.
The US Supreme Court reversed, finding that (1) certification of the class was not consistent with Rule 23(a), and (2) the backpay claims were improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(2).
(1) Under Rule 23(a), plaintiffs cannot prove "common questions of law or fact." Plaintiffs wish to sue for millions of employment decisions at once, but there was no "significant proof that an employer operated under a general policy of discrimination." Wal-Mart's announced policy forbids discrimination and has penalties for violations. Plaintiffs' only evidence of a general discrimination policy was a sociologist's analysis asserting that Wal-Mart's corporate culture made it vulnerable to gender bias, but he could not estimate what percent of the decisions might be determined by stereotypical thinking. Wal-Mart's policy gives local managers discretion, but it is unlikely that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction. Plaintiffs' attempt to show such direction by means of statistical and anecdotal evidence fell short.
(2) Under Rule 23(b)(2), the backpay claims were improperly certified. Rule 23(b)(2) applies only when a single, indivisible remedy would provide relief to each class member. Individualized monetary claims belong instead in Rule 23(b)(3), with its procedural protections of predominance, superiority, mandatory notice, and the right to opt out. Plaintiffs' argument that backpay claims do not "predominate" over their claims for injunctive and declaratory relief is rejected because such an interpretation has no basis in the Rule's text and does violence to the Rule's structural features.
Four Justices partially DISSENTED as to the Rule 23(a) issue, arguing that the majority "imports into the Rule 23(a) determination concerns properly addressed in a Rule 23(b)(3) assessment."
Fatal inconsistency in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes?
March 29, 2011 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
The case involves questions about whether a huge Title VII sex discrimination class action can go forward as a class action rather than as a series of individual cases.
The employees are arguing that a nationwide class is proper because there is a centralized corporate employment policy. At the same time the employees complain that individual store managers have too much discretion in making employment decisions.
Justice Kennedy said to the employees' lawyer:
. . . your complaint faces in two directions. Number one, you said this is a culture where Arkansas knows, the headquarters knows, everything that's going on. Then in the next breath, you say, well, now these supervisors have too much discretion. It seems to me there's an inconsistency there, and I'm just not sure what the unlawful policy is.
Justice Skalia followed this with:
I'm getting whipsawed here. On the one hand, you say the problem is that they were utterly subjective, and on the other hand you say there is a -- a strong corporate culture that guides all of this. Well, which is it? It's either the individual supervisors are left on their own, or else there is a strong corporate culture that tells them what to do.
I think the Court should allow trial courts to exercise a wide swath of discretion (in either direction) on certifying a class action.
But the employees in this case really have got themselves in a contradictory position.
I'm expecting a 5-4 or 6-3 decision in favor of Wal-Mart. And I'm being foolish predicting anything the Supreme Court might do.
Wal-Mart wants review of 1.5 million member class action
August 26, 2010 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Wal-Mart has petitioned the US Supreme Court for certiorari to review a 9th Circuit decision that upheld certifying a class of approximately 1.5 million women who are claiming sex discrimination as to pay and managerial promotions in violation of Title VII.
Question presented in the petition for certiorari:
In a sharply divided 6-5 decision that conflicts with many decisions of this Court and other circuits, the en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed the certification of the largest employment class action in history. This nationwide class includes every woman employed for any period of time over the past decade, in any of Wal-Mart’s approximately 3,400 separately managed stores, 41 regions, and 400 districts, and who held positions in any of approximately 53 departments and 170 different job classifications. The millions of class members collectively seek billions of dollars in monetary relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that tens of thousands of Wal-Mart managers inflicted monetary injury on each and every individual class member in the same manner by intentionally discriminating against them because of their sex, in violation of the company’s express anti-discrimination policy.
The questions presented are:
I. Whether claims for monetary relief can be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2)—which by its terms is limited to injunctive or corresponding declaratory relief—and, if so, under what circumstances.
II. Whether the certification order conforms to the requirements of Title VII, the Due Process Clause, the Seventh Amendment, the Rules Enabling Act, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.
A responsive filing from the plaintiffs is due September 24, 2010.
Employees may speak to EEOC investigators without company counsel present
January 25, 2010 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
The EEOC and Aerotek, Inc, an employment agency, have reached an agreement under which the company is instructing its non-supervisory recruiters that they may speak with EEOC investigators "privately and confidentially, without notifying Aerotek and without the presence of Aerotek’s legal counsel."
EEOC is investigating alleged employment discrimination, and the company had previously advised employees not to communicate with the EEOC without Aerotek’s counsel present.
EEOC press release:
EEOC Resolves Preliminary Injunction Action Against Aerotek, Inc. and Proceeds with Investigation
National Employment Agency Tells Non-Management Recruiters They May Speak With EEOC Investigators Privately and Without Company Counsel Present
CHICAGO – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that it has finally resolved an application for a preliminary injunction by securing the agreement of a major national employment agency to reverse instructions which EEOC alleged were previously given to non-management employees not to communicate with the EEOC without Aerotek’s counsel present regarding an investigation of alleged employment discrimination.
In its application for a preliminary injunction filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago on December 14, 2009, the EEOC alleged that Aerotek, Inc., the giant employment agency, had advised all of its recruiters in certain Chicago area offices not to speak independently with an EEOC investigator because, according to Aerotek, all of its recruiters were supervisors. The EEOC stated in its application it had obtained declarations refuting that contention and that Aerotek’s communications with its non-supervisory recruiters were interfering with the EEOC investigation of alleged discrimination at Aerotek (EEOC v. Aerotek, Inc., N.D. Illinois No. 09-cv-07740, J. Conlon, 1/19/2010).
An evidentiary hearing on the EEOC application began on January 12, 2010, before U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon of the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. However, after the EEOC’s first witness—an EEOC investigator—the hearing was adjourned to permit the EEOC and Aerotek to attempt to negotiate a voluntary resolution. As a result of these negotiations, Aerotek agreed to advise its non-supervisory recruiters who had received its earlier communication, in part, as follows:
“You may be contacted by Mr. Eric Lamb or another member of the Chicago EEOC in connection with an ongoing investigation of a complaint of discrimination. Please be advised that in your current role at Aerotek it is your right to speak, or not to speak, with the EEOC. Should you choose to speak with the EEOC, you may do so privately and confidentially, without notifying Aerotek and without the presence of Aerotek’s legal counsel. At no time will any adverse action be taken against you by Aerotek based on whether or not you choose to speak to the EEOC.”
Upon reaching agreement with Aerotek the EEOC filed a motion seeking leave to withdraw its application for preliminary injunction which was granted by Judge Conlon on January 19. Also on January 19, Aerotek’s attorneys advised the EEOC that the above communication would “be sent out [January 20] to the non-supervisory recruiters in [Aerotek’s] Rockford, Schaumburg, and Crystal Lake, [IL] facilities who were previously advised that communications with EEOC were to be through counsel.”
EEOC Regional Attorney John Hendrickson in Chicago said, “Responsible employers understand that they have nothing to gain by attempting to interfere with EEOC investigations. Interfering employers frequently end up only shooting themselves in the foot, and the EEOC investigation goes forward in any event. The controlling principles are clear: The law permits the EEOC to speak directly with non-management employees outside of the presence of employers and their counsel, and the law protects the employees who speak with the EEOC from retaliation. When those principles appear to be in jeopardy, the EEOC will take appropriate action.”
Aerotek, with corporate headquarters in Hanover, Md., states on its web site that it has over 150 offices in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.
The EEOC investigation of Aerotek is being managed by EEOC District Director John Rowe in Chicago. Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason and Trial Attorney Laura Feldman are on the EEOC litigation team.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.
EBSA final rule
January 15, 2010 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has issued a final rule providing a safe harbor period to “provide a higher degree of compliance certainty with respect to when an employer has made timely deposits of participant contributions to employee benefit plans with fewer than 100 participants.”
Ledbetter Act apply to demotions and promotions?
February 11, 2009 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
I have previously argued that the Lilly Ledbetter Act would not apply to a decision not to promote an employee. Will the Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009 really matter? Ask George Jackson.
Michael Fox at Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer is sounding the alarm bell, suggesting that judges will indeed apply the Act to decisions on promotion and demotion.
He points to the key language of the Act (and that is always the place to start). I’ll give you just a part:
when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice
Michael fears that the words “or other practice” will be read to include “all types of employment decisions that affect pay beyond a simple decision on wages, including demotions and promotions.”
OK, we have two nouns: (1) decision, and (2) other practice.”
And we have one adjective: compensation.
My argument is simple: the single adjective “compensation” modifies both nouns. Therefore, whatever the “other practice” may be, it must be a compensation practice.
President to sign Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 on January 29.
January 27, 2009 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
On January 29 the President is scheduled to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which amends Title VII, the ADEA, the ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act.
The Act will re-start the statute of limitation for claims of discrimination in compensation each time wages or benefits are paid, when an individual is affected by a previous discriminatory decision or practice.
The key language:
"For purposes of this section, an unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this title, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice."
"This Act, and the amendments made by this Act, take effect as if enacted on May 28, 2007 and apply to all claims of discrimination in compensation ... that are pending on or after that date."
Text of the statute: http://www.lawmemo.com/docs/congress/s181.pdf
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 awaits President's signature
January 22, 2009 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Today the Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. It has already passed the House. It awaits the President's signature.
The full text:
To amend title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and to modify the operation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, to clarify that a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice that is unlawful under such Acts occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009'.
SEC. 2. FINDINGS.
Congress finds the following:
(1) The Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007), significantly impairs statutory protections against discrimination in compensation that Congress established and that have been bedrock principles of American law for decades. The Ledbetter decision undermines those statutory protections by unduly restricting the time period in which victims of discrimination can challenge and recover for discriminatory compensation decisions or other practices, contrary to the intent of Congress.
(2) The limitation imposed by the Court on the filing of discriminatory compensation claims ignores the reality of wage discrimination and is at odds with the robust application of the civil rights laws that Congress intended.
(3) With regard to any charge of discrimination under any law, nothing in this Act is intended to preclude or limit an aggrieved person's right to introduce evidence of an unlawful employment practice that has occurred outside the time for filing a charge of discrimination.
(4) Nothing in this Act is intended to change current law treatment of when pension distributions are considered paid.
SEC. 3. DISCRIMINATION IN COMPENSATION BECAUSE OF RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN.
Section 706(e) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(e)) is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(3)(A) For purposes of this section, an unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this title, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.
`(B) In addition to any relief authorized by section 1977A of the Revised Statutes (42 U.S.C. 1981a), liability may accrue and an aggrieved person may obtain relief as provided in subsection (g)(1), including recovery of back pay for up to two years preceding the filing of the charge, where the unlawful employment practices that have occurred during the charge filing period are similar or related to unlawful employment practices with regard to discrimination in compensation that occurred outside the time for filing a charge.'.
SEC. 4. DISCRIMINATION IN COMPENSATION BECAUSE OF AGE.
Section 7(d) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. 626(d)) is amended--
(1) in the first sentence--
(A) by redesignating paragraphs (1) and (2) as subparagraphs (A) and (B), respectively; and
(B) by striking `(d)' and inserting `(d)(1)';
(2) in the third sentence, by striking `Upon' and inserting the following:
`(2) Upon'; and
(3) by adding at the end the following:
`(3) For purposes of this section, an unlawful practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this Act, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when a person becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when a person is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.'.
SEC. 5. APPLICATION TO OTHER LAWS.
(a) Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990- The amendments made by section 3 shall apply to claims of discrimination in compensation brought under title I and section 503 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12111 et seq., 12203), pursuant to section 107(a) of such Act (42 U.S.C. 12117(a)), which adopts the powers, remedies, and procedures set forth in section 706 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-5).
(b) Rehabilitation Act of 1973- The amendments made by section 3 shall apply to claims of discrimination in compensation brought under sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 791, 794), pursuant to--
(1) sections 501(g) and 504(d) of such Act (29 U.S.C. 791(g), 794(d)), respectively, which adopt the standards applied under title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for determining whether a violation has occurred in a complaint alleging employment discrimination; and
(2) paragraphs (1) and (2) of section 505(a) of such Act (29 U.S.C. 794a(a)) (as amended by subsection (c)).
(c) Conforming Amendments-
(1) REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973- Section 505(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794a(a)) is amended--
(A) in paragraph (1), by inserting after `(42 U.S.C. 2000e-5 (f) through (k))' the following: `(and the application of section 706(e)(3) (42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(e)(3)) to claims of discrimination in compensation)'; and
(B) in paragraph (2), by inserting after `1964' the following: `(42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq.) (and in subsection (e)(3) of section 706 of such Act (42 U.S.C. 2000e-5), applied to claims of discrimination in compensation)'.
(2) CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964- Section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e-16) is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(f) Section 706(e)(3) shall apply to complaints of discrimination in compensation under this section.'.
(3) AGE DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT ACT OF 1967- Section 15(f) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. 633a(f)) is amended by striking `of section' and inserting `of sections 7(d)(3) and'.
SEC. 6. EFFECTIVE DATE.
This Act, and the amendments made by this Act, take effect as if enacted on May 28, 2007 and apply to all claims of discrimination in compensation under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. 621 et seq.), title I and section 503 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, that are pending on or after that date.
25 words on Federal Express Corp v. Holowecki
February 27, 2008 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
In Federal Express Corp v. Holowecki (US Supreme Court 02/27/2008) (7-2) the Supreme Court came to grips with a long-standing legal question: Whether an employee alleging discrimination gets the ball rolling (and stops the statute of limitations) by filing what the EEOC calls an "intake questionnaire." The answer is "Yes."
The Supreme Court decision in 25 words:
EEOC's "intake questionnaire" can serve as a "charge," because the statute doesn't define "charge" and EEOC regulations fill in the gaps in a reasonable way.
The Official Syllabus:
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) requires that "[n]o civil action ... be commenced ... until 60 days after a charge alleging unlawful discrimination has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" (EEOC), 29 U. S. C. §626(d), but does not define the term "charge." After petitioner delivery service (FedEx) initiated programs tying its couriers' compensation and continued employment to certain performance benchmarks, respondent Kennedy (hereinafter respondent), a FedEx courier over age 40, filed with the EEOC, in December 2001, a Form 283 "Intake Questionnaire" and a detailed affidavit supporting her contention that the FedEx programs discriminated against older couriers in violation of the ADEA. In April 2002, respondent and others filed this ADEA suit claiming, inter alia, that the programs were veiled attempts to force out, harass, and discriminate against older couriers. FedEx moved to dismiss respondent's action, contending she had not filed the "charge" required by §626(d). Respondent countered that her Form 283 and affidavit constituted a valid charge, but the District Court disagreed and granted FedEx's motion. The Second Circuit reversed.
1. In addition to the information required by the implementing regulations, i.e., an allegation of age discrimination and the name of the charged party, if a filing is to be deemed a "charge" under the ADEA it must be reasonably construed as a request for the agency to take remedial action to protect the employee's rights or otherwise settle a dispute between the employer and the employee.
(a) There is little dispute that the EEOC's regulations-so far as they go-are reasonable constructions of the statutory term "charge" and are therefore entitled to deference under Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837 . However, while the regulations give some content to the term charge, they fall short of a comprehensive definition. Thus, the issue is the guidance the regulations give. Title 29 CFR §1626.3 says: "charge shall mean a statement filed with the [EEOC] which alleges that the named prospective defendant has engaged in or is about to engage in acts in violation of the Act." Section 1626.8(a) identifies information a "charge should contain," including: the employee's and employer's names, addresses, and phone numbers; an allegation that the employee was the victim of age discrimination; the number of employees of the charged employer; and a statement indicating whether the charging party has initiated state proceedings. Section 1626.8(b), however, seems to qualify these requirements by stating that a charge is "sufficient" if it meets the requirements of §1626.6-i.e., if it is "in writing and ... name[s] the prospective respondent and ... generally allege[s] the discriminatory act(s)." That the meaning of charge remains unclear, even with the regulations, is evidenced by the differing positions of the parties and the Courts of Appeals on the matter.
(b) Just as this Court defers to reasonable statutory interpretations, an agency is entitled to deference when it adopts a reasonable interpretation of its regulations, unless its position is " ' plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation,' " Auer v. Robbins, 519 U. S. 452 . The Court accords such deference to the EEOC's position that its regulations identify certain requirements for a charge but do not provide an exhaustive definition. It follows that a document meeting §1626.6's requirements is not a charge in every instance. The language in §§1626.6 and 1626.8 cannot be viewed in isolation from the rest of the regulations. While the regulations' structure is less than clear, the relevant provisions are grouped under the title, "Procedures-Age Discrimination in Employment Act." A permissible reading is that the regulations identify the procedures for filing a charge but do not state the full contents of a charge.
(c) That does not resolve this case because the regulations do not state what additional elements are required in a charge. The EEOC submits, in accordance with a position it has adopted in internal directives over the years, that the proper test is whether a filing, taken as a whole, should be construed as a request by the employee for the EEOC to take whatever action is necessary to vindicate her rights.
(d) The EEOC acted within its authority in formulating its request-to-act requirement. The agency's policy statements, embodied in its compliance manual and internal directives, interpret not only its regulations but also the statute itself. Assuming these interpretive statements are not entitled to full Chevron deference, they nevertheless are entitled to a "measure of respect" under the less deferential standard of Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U. S. 134 , see Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation v. EPA, 540 U. S. 461 , whereby the Court considers whether the agency has consistently applied its position, e.g., United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U. S. 218 . Here, the relevant interpretive statement has been binding on EEOC staff for at least five years. True, the agency's implementation has been uneven; e.g., its field office did not treat respondent's filing as a charge, and, as a result, she filed suit before the EEOC could initiate conciliation with FedEx. Such undoubted deficiencies are not enough, however, to deprive an agency that processes over 175,000 inquiries a year of all judicial deference. Moreover, the charge must be defined in a way that allows the agency to fulfill its distinct statutory functions of enforcing antidiscrimination laws, see 29 U. S. C. §626(d), and disseminating information about those laws to the public, see, e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1964, §§705(i), 705(g)(3).
(e) FedEx's view that because the EEOC must act "[u]pon receiving ... a charge," 29 U. S. C. §626(d), its failure to do so means the filing is not a charge, is rejected as too artificial a reading of the ADEA. The statute requires the aggrieved individual to file a charge before filing a lawsuit; it does not condition the individual's right to sue upon the agency taking any action. Cf. Edelman v. Lynchburg College, 535 U. S. 106 . Moreover, because the filing of a charge determines when the ADEA's time limits and procedural mechanisms commence, it would be illogical and impractical to make the definition of charge dependent upon a condition subsequent over which the parties have no control. Cf. Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U. S. 422 . Pp. 12-13.
2. The agency's determination that respondent's December 2001 filing was a charge is a reasonable exercise of its authority to apply its own regulations and procedures in the course of the routine administration of the statute it enforces.
(a) Respondent's completed Form 283 contained all the information outlined in 29 CFR §1626.8, and, although the form did not itself request agency action, the accompanying affidavit asked the EEOC to "force [FedEx] to end [its] age discrimination plan." FedEx contends unpersuasively that, in context, the latter statement is ambiguous because the affidavit also stated: "I have been ... assur[ed] by [the EEOC] that this Affidavit will be considered confidential ... and will not be disclosed ... unless it becomes necessary ... to produce the affidavit in a formal proceeding." This argument reads too much into the nondisclosure assurances. Respondent did not request the EEOC to avoid contacting FedEx, but stated only her understanding that the affidavit itself would be kept confidential and, even then, consented to disclosure of the affidavit in a "formal proceeding." Furthermore, respondent checked a box on the Form 283 giving consent for the EEOC to disclose her identity to FedEx. The fact that respondent filed a formal charge with the EEOC after she filed her District Court complaint is irrelevant because postfiling conduct does not nullify an earlier, proper charge.
(b) Because the EEOC failed to treat respondent's filing as a charge in the first instance, both sides lost the benefits of the ADEA's informal dispute resolution process. The court that hears the merits can attempt to remedy this deficiency by staying the proceedings to allow an opportunity for conciliation and settlement. While that remedy is imperfect, it is unavoidable in this case. However, the ultimate responsibility for establishing a clearer, more consistent process lies with the EEOC, which should determine, in the first instance, what revisions to its forms and processes are necessary or appropriate to reduce the risk of future misunderstandings by those who seek its assistance.
440 F. 3d 558, affirmed.
KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and STEVENS, SOUTER, GINSBURG, BREYER, and ALITO, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined.
Supreme Court: Is intake questionnaire an EEOC "charge"?
November 04, 2007 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Circuit courts are split as to whether filing an intake questionnaire qualifies as filing a "charge" with the EEOC. Filing a timely charge is required before taking an ADEA case to court.
Plaintiff Patricia Kennedy filed an EEOC Intake Questionnaire plus a four-page verified affidavit detailing her claims of age discrimination.
The EEOC did not assign a case number, did not investigate or attempt to resolve the matter, and did not notify the employer.
The trial court dismissed her later law suit for failure to exhaust EEOC remedies as required by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
The 2nd Circuit reversed, holding that Kennedy's filing (1) contained the information required by the statute and by the EEOC's interpreting regulations, and (2) demonstrated Kennedy's intent to activate the EEOC's administrative process. The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the 2nd Circuit's judgment.
The government has filed an amicus brief and will argue in favor of the respondents (employees).
My view: An easy win for the respondents-plaintiffs-employees.
The best summary of what I think will be the prevailing argument is contained in the amicus brief filed by the government:
- In answering the question presented, the Court should follow the framework set forth in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984). The first inquiry under Chevron is "whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue." Id. at 842. The answer to that question is no, because the ADEA does not define or otherwise provide concrete guidance as to the meaning of "charge."
- Because Congress has not directly spoken to the question of what is a "charge," resolution of this case turns on whether the agency has adopted "a permissible construction of the statute." Chevron, 467 U.S. at 843. It has.
- The EEOC's administrative interpretation of "charge" is entitled to deference. The agency's interpretation is consistent with the text and object of the ADEA and gives "specificity to a statutory scheme that the [Commission is] charged with enforcing and reflect[s] the considerable experience and expertise that the [EEOC] ha[s] acquired over time with respect to the complexities of" dealing with the wide variety of submissions it receives from members of the public.
- Respondent's December 3, 2001, submission constitutes "a charge alleging unlawful discrimination" under the ADEA. There is no dispute that respondent's submission complies with all of the regulatory requirements as to a charge's form and content. In addition, respondent's intake questionnaire and accompanying affidavit objectively manifest an intent to make a formal accusation of unlawful age discrimination against petitioner. In particular, on the intake questionnaire respondent specifically gives consent for the EEOC to disclose her identity to petitioner, and that document was accompanied by a five-page notarized affidavit that details the alleged discrimination and asks the EEOC to "force [petitioner] to end [such] discrimination." That submission clearly and objectively manifests an intent to make a formal accusation of unlawful age discrimination.
- The fact that the EEOC failed to fulfill its notice and conciliation duties upon receiving respondent's charge does not transform that charge into something else, and it does not bar respondent's suit.
The parties' briefs have interesting arguments about what is "fair" and what the employee's "intent" was. Sorry folks; I don't think it matters. This case is about the statutory definition of "charge" and whether the EEOC's interpretation of "charge" is reasonable and entitled to deference.
"Me too" case at the Supreme Court
June 11, 2007 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Ellen Mendelsohn claimed Sprint fired her because of her age during a company-wide reduction in force. She lost a jury trial. Mendelsohn claims that the trial court improperly excluded testimony from other former Sprint employees that they experienced similar discrimination during the same reduction in force.
The 10th Circuit held that because this evidence was excluded, Mendelsohn did not have a full opportunity to present her case to the jury. Therefore, the 10th Circuit ordered a new trial.
The Question Presented by the certiorari petition:
This case presents a recurring question of proof in employment discrimination cases: whether a district court must admit "me, too" evidence - testimony, by non-parties, alleging discrimination at the hands of persons who played no role in the adverse employment decision challenged by the plaintiff.
The Tenth Circuit panel majority held that a court commits reversible error by excluding "me, too" evidence. This decision conflicts with those of other circuits. Specifically, four circuits have held "me, too" evidence wholly irrelevant. Five circuits have that "me, too" evidence may be excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. Granting certiorari will resolve the conflict between the circuit courts of appeals on this important question of law.
Oral arguments will be scheduled for October 2007 or later.
Paul Secunda at Workplace Prof Blog is predicting that Sprint will win this one.
Some Reflections on the Ledbetter Decision
May 29, 2007 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
"Some Reflections on the Ledbetter Decision" is the title of Paul Secunda's post at Workplace Prof Blog. He argues that today's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co (US Supreme Court 05/29/2007) was wrong.
Professor Secunda has an excellent analytical eye, and has a thoughtful and generous nature, so I enjoy jousting with him.
I thought the decision was correct, and was surprised only by the fact that four Justices didn't think so.
Paul is quite correct when he says that the main question is: "Is pay discrimination a discrete act like a termination or failure to promote or is it more like a cumulative series of individual events like hostile work environment sexual harassment?"
I jump off Paul's wagon when he says pay discrimination decisions are more like hostile environment claims than they are like a discrete act such as a termination or demotion. Quoting Paul: "As with hostile work environment sexual harassment claims, individual pay decisions by themselves do not have the obvious discriminatory intent that discrete acts such as terminations or failures to promote do."
Not so. In the Ledbetter case, a pay decision was made once a year, and then implemented via paychecks. One single decision. In a hostile environment case, the claim by its very nature involves a cumulation of several events that have to be added together before the environment is sufficiently hostile for a claim to arise.
It's the difference between "wham" (pay raise) and "drip, drip, drip" (hostile environment).
I think Paul and the Supreme Court dissenters have shifted the focus to the difficulty of discovery. If everyone else's pay rate is a secret, then of course it is difficult to discove a discriminatory pay increase. But the same is true in many discharge and promotion cases. It often is difficult to discover that one gender or race has been treated differently than another, and then difficult to discover the reason for the different treatment. That has never had any effect on the statute of limitations.
Ledbetter loses pay discrimination case
May 29, 2007 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Title VII's statute of limitations begins when a discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to the employee, and does not start over with each later paycheck.
So says the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision announced this morning.
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co (US Supreme Court 05/29/2007)
Lilly Ledbetter claimed her employer paid her a smaller salary than it paid male co-workers because of her sex. Her periodic paychecks were based on annual salary reviews, which she claimed were made with discriminatory intent. A jury awarded damages to Ledbetter based on a series of salary decisions going back 19 years. The 11th Circuit reversed and ordered that Ledbetter's complaint be dismissed. The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The Supreme Court held that Title VII's statute of limitation period (180 or 300 days) begins to run when "each allegedly discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her." The Court rejected Ledbetter's argument that each subsequent paycheck was a separate act of discrimination, and her argument that the most recent decision was unlawful because it carried forward intentionally discriminatory disparities from prior years.
My view: This is the correct decision, following the reasoning that I predicted back in November.
Wal-Mart class action approved
February 06, 2007 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
The 9th Circuit has approved a 1.5 million member class action in a Title VII case brought by current and former employees. Let the litigation begin.
The case: Dukes v. Wal-Mart (9th Cir 02/06/2007)
The capsule: Dukes and others sued claiming sex discrimination as to pay and managerial promotions in violation of Title VII. The trial court certified a class of all women employed at any Wal-Mart domestic retail store at any time since December 26, 1998 who have been or may be subjected to Wal-Mart's challenged pay and management track promotions policies and practices. The class concerns approximately 1.5 million women who worked at any of Wal-Mart's 3,400 stores, including part-time, full-time, entry-level, hourly, salaried, managerial. The 9th Circuit affirmed (2-1), using a highly deferential "abuse of discretion" standard of review.
The class was certified under Rule 23(a) and (b)(2).
Rule 23(a): There was no dispute as to the numerosity requirement. As to common questions of fact and law, the court found that there was significant evidence of corporate-wide practices and policies of excessive subjectivity in personnel decision and sexual stereotyping, statistical evidence of gender disparities, and anecdotal evidence of gender bias. The court found the claims to be typical even though the only class representative for managers holds a low level position. The court found adequate representation even though there are in-store managers who are both class members and decision-making agents of the employer.
Rule 23(b)(2): In order to qualify under Rule 23(b)(2), plaintiffs' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief must predominate over their claims for monetary relief. The court rejected the employer's argument that monetary claims predominate, saying that this issue turned on "plaintiffs' intent in bringing the suit."
Individualized hearings: The employer argued that it was entitled to an individualized hearing for each member's claim, based on case law, Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 USC Section 1991a, and the due process clause. The court rejected these arguments, noting that some of them can be raised at the merits stage.
The DISSENT argued that the class lacks commonality and typicality. In addition, if the named plaintiffs were zealously represented, then their interests would diverge and require separate counsel. Finally, the dissent argued that both the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the due process clause "require more individual justice than Wal-Mart will receive."
When charging party refuses to cooperate with EEOC
July 31, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
If a charging party refuses to cooperate with an EEOC investigation, can she still bring a court case? Circuits are split.
The 10th Circuit has said either cooperate or you can't sue. Shikles v. Sprint/United Management (10th Cir 2005). Quoting the 10th Circuit:
We hold that (1) the ADEA requires a private sector claimant to cooperate with the EEOC in order to exhaust his or her administrative remedies; (2) a plaintiff's exhaustion of administrative remedies is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit under the ADEA; and (3) a plaintiff's failure to exhaust his or her administrative remedies does not justify granting summary judgment to the defendant, but rather justifies dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction.
The 7th Circuit disagrees. You can sue even if you didn't cooperate with the EEOC investigation. Doe v. Oberweis Dairy (7th Cir 07/28/2006).
In the Doe case (involving Title VII) the 7th Circuit pointed out that the text of Title VII does not require a charging party to cooperate. In addition, EEOC regulations do not make cooperation a condition of the charging party's being able to sue.
My view: It's always nice to see a court (here, the 7th Circuit) that can read a statute and a regulation rather than making up its own rules.
More discussion of this: Statutory Rape and Title VII -- But Much More from the 7th Circuit from Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer
Must employer front-end employee's attorney fees when employer sues employee?
July 26, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
It seems improbable that an employee can require an employer to advance litigation costs in a suit by the employer against the employee.
This is exactly what might have to happen in a case in which the employer claims that the employee unlawfully deleted material from a laptop computer in violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The employment contract contained provisions requiring the employer to pay any expenses incurred in successfully defending suits "based on acts performed in connection with the company's business."
The employer sued the employee in federal court, and then the employee sued in state court seeking an order compelling the employer to advance him money for attorney fees and other expenses incurred in defending against the employer's suit.
Then the employer asked the federal court to enjoin the state suit.
No dice, says the 7th Circuit. Intl Airport Centers v. Citrin (7th Cir 07/25/2006).
Class action removal - "less" means "more"
May 28, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
An employer removes a state court class action case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), and that court denies a motion to remand to state court.
CAFA says the plaintiffs can appeal by filing an application "not less than" 7 days after entry of the order.
The 9th Circuit says "not less than" means "not more than" 7 days.
Amalgamated Transit Union v. Laidlaw Transit (9th Cir 01/26/2006).
The 9th Circuit has now denied an en banc rehearing in that case. Six judges filed a dissent arguing that a court has no business rewriting the statute merely because the way it was actually written is "illogical." Amalgamated Transit Union v. Laidlaw Transit (9th Cir 05/22/2006).
|Employment Law Memo notified its readers about this case on 05/26/2006.|
Pritchett v. Office Depot, Inc., 420 F.3d 1090, 1093 n.2 (10th Cir. 2005), reached the same result, opining that there was a typographical error.
Title VII's 15-employee threshold is not jurisdictional
February 22, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp (US Supreme Court 02/22/2006): The US Supreme Court holds (unanimously) that Title VII's definition of "employer," which includes only those having "fifteen or more employees" is matter going to the substantive ingredients of a Title VII claim for relief, and is not a matter that affects federal court subject-matter jurisdiction.
Arbaugh sued in federal court under Title VII and state tort law. After a jury verdict for Arbaugh, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants and vacated the verdict because the defendant corporation did not employ 15 or more employees and thus was not an "employer" under Title VII. The 5th Circuit affirmed. The US Supreme Court reversed the 5th Circuit decision.
- If a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the complaint in its entirety. That would mean the court would lose jurisdiction over both the Title VII case and the state law case (over which the federal court has supplemental jurisdiction).
- A subject matter jurisdiction question can be raised at any time (even on appeal) and can be raised by the court even if the parties do not raise it. Because the 15-employee threshold goes to the merits, it has to be raised by the defendant or it is waived, and it has to be raised prior to the close of trial on the merits.
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)."
Statute means the exact opposite of what it says
January 28, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
"Not less" means "not more." A statute's clear text means the opposite of what it says.
The federal Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) allows a party to remove certain state-court class-action cases to federal court. Once removed, it is typical that there will be a motion to remand to state court. However the federal trial court rules, that ruling is appealable "not less than 7 days after entry of the order." There are now two federal Circuit courts that have decided that "not less than 7 days after" actual means the opposite: "not more than 7 days after."
A union and 15 employees sued the employer in state court for violation of California's meal and rest period laws. The employer removed the action to federal court, on the basis of (among other things) "class action" or "mass action" diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). The plaintiffs moved to remand the action to state court, but the trial court denied the motion on the basis that class action diversity jurisdiction existed. The plaintiffs appealed that order, and the employer moved to dismiss. The 9th Circuit denied the motion. Amalgamated Transit Union v. Laidlaw Transit (9th Cir 01/26/2006).
28 USC Section 1453(c)(1) of CAFA provides that "...a court of appeals may accept an appeal from an order of a district court granting or denying a motion to remand a class action to the State court from which it was removed if application is made to the court of appeals not less than 7 days after entry of the order."
The 9th Circuit held that "Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure [FRAP] 5 governs the initiation of such appeals, and ... the petition for permission to take an appeal must be filed not more than seven court days after the district court's order."
The court noted that although Section 1453(c)(1) provides that an application may be made "not less" than 7 days after entry of the order, it should be read as requiring that an application be made "not more" than 7 days after entry of the order. The court agreed with the 10th Circuit's determination that inclusion of the phrase "not less" in Section 1453(c)(1) was a typographical error (Pritchett v. Office Depot, Inc., 420 F.3d 1090 (10th Cir 2005)).
The court also concluded that "because the statute does not specify the deadline as calendar days, we construe the seven days as court days, thereby excluding intermediate weekends and holidays."
The court ultimately denied the employer's motion to dismiss the appeal, stating "we construe the timely notice of appeal and the late petition for permission to appeal as one timely petition satisfying the requirements of FRAP"
Federal employees' access to federal courts
December 04, 2005 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments December 5 in Whitman v. Department of Transportation (No. 04-1131).
Whitman sued in federal court claiming his employer, the Federal Aviation Administration, disproportionately tested him for substance abuse in violation of the first amendment and a federal statute. The trial court held it had no subject matter jurisdiction; the 9th Circuit affirmed; the US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the 9th Circuit decision.
The 9th Circuit reasoned that the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) generally does not allow federal court suits. The CSRA requires collective bargaining agreements to include procedures for resolving "grievances" such as Whitman's claims. Before 1994 CSRA provided that the collectively bargained procedures "shall be the exclusive procedures for resolving grievances." The 1994 amendment added one word: "shall be the exclusive ADMINISTRATIVE procedures for resolving grievances." The 9th Circuit said the amendment "does not constitute an express grant of federal court jurisdiction."
Cooperate with the EEOC or lose your case
October 21, 2005 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
If you file a charge with the EEOC, and then fail to cooperate with the EEOC investigation, expect to lose your case when you go to court.
Davis Shikles, claiming his employer violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), filed a charge with the EEOC.
Over the course of the next three months, Shikles and his attorney cancelled three scheduled telephone interviews with the EEOC investigator assigned to his case, failed repeatedly to return the investigator's telephone calls, and failed to submit information requested by the investigator. As a result, Shikles never provided the investigator with any information on his claim of discrimination beyond that contained in his initial EEOC charge.
The 10th Circuit concluded that Shikles had a duty to cooperate with the EEOC investigation, that failure to do so was a failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and the court lacked jurisdiction to hear his case.
- even though the statute does not require a claimant to cooperate
- even though the EEOC filed a brief saying such cooperation was not required
Shikles v. Sprint/United Management Co (10th Cir 10/20/2005).
My view: It all makes sense, of course. However, I dislike court decisions that have no statutory foundation.
False Claims Act retaliation claim statute of limitations
June 20, 2005 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo
The US Supreme Court says the statute of limitations for False Claims Act retaliation claims is the most analogous state statute. Graham County Soil v. US ex rel Wilson (US Supreme Court 06/20/2005).
Wilson sued under the federal False Claims Act (FCA) claiming her employer retaliated against her for alerting federal officials to purported fraud and for cooperating with the ensuing investigation. The trial court dismissed the suit as untimely under the state's 3-year statute of limitations; the 4th Circuit reversed, applying the FCA's 6-year limitation period; the US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court held: The appropriate statute of limitations in a False Claims Act retaliation case is the most closely analogous state statute, not the 6-year period stated in the FCA.
My view: (1) Typically state statutes of limitations will be shorter than six years. (2) Plaintiffs often join a retaliation claim with a qui tam action in the Government's name (hoping to collect a portion of the ill-gotten gains). The qui tam claim will governed by the federal six-years statute of limitations.
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