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In Texas, EEOC Intake Questionnaire Is Truly Supplemental And Not To Be Considered In Determining A Charge’s Scope

Published by on July 9, 2012

In Lopez v. Texas State Univ. (Tex. App. – Austin, April 20, 2012), the Texas Court of Appeals found that an EEOC intake questionnaire should not be considered when determining the scope of an administrative charge.  A copy of the  opinion can be found here.  More after the break. Plaintiff Sonya Thorn Lopez sued Texas State […]

In Lopez v. Texas State Univ. (Tex. App. – Austin, April 20, 2012), the Texas Court of Appeals found that an EEOC intake questionnaire should not be considered when determining the scope of an administrative charge.  A copy of the  opinion can be found here.  More after the break.

Plaintiff Sonya Thorn Lopez sued Texas State University (“TSU”), alleging race discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”).  See Tex. Lab. Code Ann. §§ 21.051, 21.055. TSU filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that Lopez failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to her retaliation and race-discrimination claims because she checked only the boxes for national-origin and sex discrimination on the charge of discrimination she submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights Division (“TWC”).  The trial court granted the plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed Lopez’s claims with prejudice.  On appeal, Lopez argued that she exhausted her administrative remedies because even though she did not check the retaliation and race-discrimination boxes on the administrative charge form, she did check those boxes on her EEOC intake questionnaire.  In addition, she asserted that retaliation and race discrimination are factually related claims that could reasonably be expected to grow out of the administrative agency’s investigation of her sex-discrimination and national-origin-discrimination charges.  

According to the Court’s opinion, on November 2, 2009, Lopez filled out an EEOC “Intake Questionnaire,” in which she marked boxes indicating she had suffered discrimination based on sex and race and had been retaliated against for filing the reduction-of-pay grievance, complaining about Johnson’s qualifications, and terminating his employment.  At the same time, Lopez signed an administrative “Charge of Discrimination” on which only the “Sex” and “National Origin” discrimination boxes were checked. On the charge form, she described her allegations as follows:

On October 19, 2009, I was wrongfully discharged from my position as Director of the Upward Bound program, allegedly due to negligence, gross misconduct and not performing my duties of Director. I have not received any prior warnings or counseling; during July 2009, I received a bonus, while during September 2009, I received a merit rate increase. During September 2009, it was my misfortune to have fired the brother of my department director.

I believe I have been discriminated against because of my sex, female[,] and national origin, Hispanic, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.

Lopez noted on both the intake questionnaire and the charge of discrimination that she is Hispanic, but she did not provide the race of other employees involved in her allegations.  On her EEOC intake questionnaire, Lopez alleged race discrimination and retaliation. Lopez filed suit alleging race discrimination and five acts of retaliation. 

With respect to Plaintiff’s race claims, the Court found that given the dual understanding and implication of the term “Hispanic” Lopez’s claim that she was discriminated against because she is Hispanic would reasonably give rise to an administrative investigation of discrimination based on both national origin and race even though Lopez checked only the box labeled “national origin” on the EEOC charge.  Therefore, it was determined that Lopez exhausted her administrative remedies as to her race-discrimination claim.

The Court, however, found that Lopez’s retaliation claims in question were not within the scope of the charge.  Lopez’s lawsuit alleged five acts of retaliation but her administrative charge only included one.  Plaintiff argued that if the intake questionnaire were considered, all her retaliation claims would be within the scope of the charge.  The Court of Appeals determined that the intake questionnaire should not be considered to expand the charge’s scope.

The court stated:  “The intake questionnaire is “truly supplemental” to claims already falling within the liberal construction standard applicable to charges of discrimination.  Moreover, the approach goes further by requiring that the employer have possessed actual knowledge of the contents of the questionnaire, which is one of the core functions served by the charge requirement in the first place.”

Thus, the Court declined to consider the intake questionnaire in determining whether Lopez exhausted her other retaliation claims.  It therefore did not reach the issue of whether TSU had actual knowledge of the questionnaire’s contents, had access to the questionnaire, or otherwise had notice that Lopez was pursuing a retaliation claim on those bases.

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