4th Circuit Decides Case On Exhaustion Of Administrative Remedies
Published by Eric A. Welter on January 12, 2009
On January 5, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the matter of Jones vs. Calvert Group, Limited. The case considered several issues involving the exhaustion of administrative remedies in a Title VII case by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or State Human Rights […]
On January 5, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in the matter of Jones vs. Calvert Group, Limited. The case considered several issues involving the exhaustion of administrative remedies in a Title VII case by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or State Human Rights Commission. A copy of the decision is here. More after the break.
The plaintiff in this case originally filed a complaint of race, age and sex discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations alleging discrimination of failure to promote. That complaint was resolved by an agreement with the company. Subsequent to the resolution of her first complaint, the plaintiff received her first ever negative performance evaluation. She filed a second charge of discrimination at that time alleging retaliation. The Commission issued the plaintiff the Right to Sue Letter in August 2006, and the employer terminated her in October 2006, allegedly for “not taking ownership of her work assignments.”
The plaintiff subsequently filed suit claiming that she had been fired in violation of Title VII based on her race and sex and in retaliation for having engaged in protected activity. She also alleged that she was terminated based on her age. The district court dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim, finding that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for her claims.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit first considered the plaintiff’s termination claims based on age, sex or race. Noting that the second charge filed by the plaintiff did not allege these three bases of discrimination, but only alleged retaliation, the court concluded that the district court had properly dismissed those claims. It therefore remanded the case to the district court to dismiss those claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The court’s decision on those claims was consistent with its prior precedent, which holds “only those discrimination claims stated in the initial charge, those reasonably related to the original complaint, and those developed by reasonable investigation of the original complaint may be maintained in a subsequent Title VII lawsuit.” Evans vs. Techs. Applications and Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 963 (4th Cir. 1996).
The more difficult issue facing the court was whether the plaintiff had exhausted her administrative remedies with respect to her retaliation claim for her termination. The court looked back at its prior decision in Nealon vs. Stone, 958 F.2d 584 (4th Cir. 1992). Nealon had looked at the question of whether a plaintiff asserting a Title VII claim of retaliation for filing a previous EEOC charge must exhaust administrative remedies before suing in federal court. In that case, the court had held that a plaintiff may raise the retaliation claim for the first time in federal court.
In the case before it the court first looked at the retaliation charge that was filed before the plaintiff’s termination. Noting that the charge alleged that the retaliatory behavior was on-going, the court concluded that the alleged retaliatory termination was merely the predictable culmination of Calvert’s alleged retaliatory conduct, and accordingly concluded that the claim of retaliatory termination was reasonably related to the allegations of the second charge.
Although the conclusions in the Jones case may be limited to the Fourth Circuit, attorneys representing both plaintiffs and defendants in employment discrimination actions in this circuit must be attentive to the scope of the administrative remedies pursued by a claimant. The courts in the Fourth Circuit will not hesitate to dismiss claims that have not been properly presented to the EEOC or State Human Rights Commission.Topics: EEOC, Litigation