No Relief Request Means No Bias ‘Charge,’Court Says

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By Kevin McGowan

Oct. 27 — A fired employee alleging discrimination must request relief such as reinstatement, back pay or damages to file a “charge” that satisfies the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled ( Carlson v. Christian Bros. Servs. , 2016 BL 357914, 7th Cir., No. 15-3807, 10/27/16 ).

The ruling also affects workers alleging violations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other federal anti-bias laws that require them to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or an equivalent state or local agency within 300 days of the employer’s alleged discrimination.

Jacquelyn Carlson, a former Christian Brothers Services customer service representative, didn’t file a timely ADA charge because the “complainant information sheet” she submitted to an Illinois state agency didn’t ask for any remedy for the alleged disability bias.

The EEOC in an amicus brief argued Carlson’s completed form should be considered a charge because it set out the elements of a discrimination claim.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a charge under federal anti-discrimination laws must include a request for remedial action, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said Oct. 27.

Prelude to a Charge

Carlson argued the form she filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights was a charge that satisfied the ADA’s 300-day filing deadline because it “authorized the EEOC to look into the discrimination alleged.”

But that’s “a far cry” from a charge as the word is commonly understood, Judge Richard A. Posner wrote.

“A charge is the administrative equivalent of a complaint filed in court,” he said.

The information sheet submitted to the state agency can’t be deemed a charge “unless it asks for relief” from the former employer, the court said.

Carlson’s form did say the state agency would cross-file a complainant’s “charge” with the EEOC as part of a work-sharing arrangement.

But the form indicated in capital letters “THIS IS NOT A CHARGE” and said that if the state agency accepted the fired worker’s claim, “we will send you a charge form for your signature.” Some courts have held a form doesn’t need to be labeled a “charge” to qualify as a charge if it contains all the required information.

Carlson’s information sheet “was merely a prelude to a charge and not the charge itself,” Posner wrote in an opinion joined by Judges Joel M. Flaum and Daniel A. Manion.

EEOC Argument Rebuffed

The EEOC argued that by filing the form, Carlson consented to disclosure of her personal information to Christian Brothers Services. That shows she wanted remedial action, the commission said.

But the form explicitly stated that “if” the Illinois agency “takes a charge” based on the information provided, then the worker consented to disclose her identity and personal information to her former employer, the court said.

Carlson eventually filed a charge, but it was 398 days after her February 2012 termination, too late under the ADA.

“She can’t plead ignorance of legal technicalities, because she was represented by counsel throughout,” the court said.

Gomberg & Associates in Chicago represented Carlson. Jackson Lewis P.C. represented Christian Brothers Services.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin McGowan in Washington at kmcgowan@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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