A recent employment law decision in a D.C. federal court highlights the differences between the jurisdictional reach of Title VII and that of various state employment discrimination laws.
A D.C.-based company fires an overseas employee
After it had been awarded a contract by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Checchi & Company Consulting, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, hired Olivier Kambala as a contract administrator. Kambala, a black citizen of Congo, performed his work exclusively in Mali. After an “altercation” with a white, French co-worker, the company fired Kambala.
Among a myriad of claims, Kambala brought Title VII race and national origin discrimination claims against the company, which sought dismissal on the grounds that Title VII did not protect him because he was not a U.S. citizen and did not work in the U.S. The court agreed.
Explaining that while Title VII does protect U.S. citizens employed abroad who are working for U.S. employers, it does not afford the same protection to “[aliens employed in positions, or who apply for positions, located outside the United States.” [citing 29 C.F.R. Sect. 1614.103(d)4]
Kambala argued that his claims came within the ambit of Title VII as a result of the EEOC’s handling of his charge and issuance of a right-to-sue letter. But the court disagreed, stating that “[a] right-to-sue letter cannot […] confer rights that the statute does not.”
Survival under the broad reach of the DCHRA
Though Kambala’s attempt to invoke the protections of Title VII proved unsuccessful, the court allowed him to proceed on his claims under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, which has much broader coverage and only requires that “either the discriminatory employment decision [be] made in the District of Columbia or that the effects of that discriminatory decision were felt in the District.”
Kambala alleged that the company’s investigator told him the D.C. office made the decision to fire him and that the company’s termination letter, signed by the company’s vice president, was printed on letterhead bearing a D.C. address. Those allegations were sufficient to show that the company made its decision in D.C., triggering Kambala’s rights under the DCHRA.
The company countered by arguing that D.C. council envisioned to limit the statute’s reach to the District’s borders as it specified in its statement of intent that the goal of the statute was to promote the opportunities to “participate fully in the economic, cultural and intellectual life of the District.” But the court disagreed, explaining that the D.C. Court of Appeals had already rejected that argument in Monteilh v. AFSCME, 982 A.2d 301, 107 FEP Cases 561 (D.C. 2009).
Developments in other jurisdictions
While D.C. law is pretty clear on this issue, there is a strong presumption against the extraterritorial reach of state statutes for reasons of comity and to “protect against unintended clashes” between the laws of the states. Union Underwear Co. v. Barnhart, 50 S.W.3d 188, 85 FEP Cases 835 (Ky. 2001).
However, states very widely in both the language used in their own employment discrimination statutes as well as their courts’ interpretations of the jurisdictional reach of those statutes. In Judkins v. Saint Joseph's College of Maine, 483 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D. Me. 2007), for example, a Maine federal court sided with a Maine-based college in interpreting the Maine Human Rights Act to not extend to the sex and age discrimination claims of a former employee based in the Cayman Islands.
A court can also establish jurisdiction under both Title VII and state law if an employment agreement allows it to do so. For example, in Rabe v. United Air Lines, Inc., 636 F.3d 866, 111 FEP Cases 1094 (7th Cir. 2011), the court held that a Rabe thus teaches employment lawyers that not all hope is lost if a state statute does not by its own terms allow for extraterritorial employment discrimination claims.
As U.S.-based companies continue to look internationally to fill their staffing needs, this issue is sure to get more attention in both state legislatures and the courts. Make sure to follow Bloomberg for all the latest developments!
Bloomberg Law® helps labor and employment law practitioners provide rapid, accurate and complete advice to clients by bringing together trusted, market-leading Bloomberg BNA content like Daily Labor Report® and treatises like Covenants Not to Compete: A State-by-State Survey and The Developing Labor Law, with a fully integrated, innovative legal research platform. Click here to request a free trial.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)