U.S. Supreme Court: A Charge by Any Other Name... Is Still a Charge

The U.S. Supreme Court decided 7-2 that an EEOC Intake Questionnaire was a valid substitute for the official "Charge" of Discrimination. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court, reasoned that the Intake Questionnaire, coupled with an attached affidavit, contained all the information required of a Charge by regulation. The attached affidavit also contained a request for the EEOC to act. That was enough in the case at bar. However, the EEOC need not deem every Intake Questionnaire to be a Charge.

The employer, Federal Express, did not receive notice of the Charge, nor was it given the opportunity for conciliation, all of which appear to be contemplated by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The majority recognized that problem, suggesting the district court can stay the civil action pending the conciliation process.

The majority also suggested that the result might be different under Title VII. The procedural rules and laws differ slightly under the ADEA, which permits lawsuits after agency inaction for more than 60 days. The EEOC also may commence litigation under the ADEA without a charge, so long as it first attempts to conciliate.

Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, dissented.

This case will create problems for employers seeking to invoke the statute of limitations in federal discrimination actions. Additionally, as Justice Thomas pointed out in the dissent, becaause not every Intake Questinonaire will qualify as a Charge, there most likely will be litigation over this issue, driving up litigation costs and delays. It remains to be seen whether the EEOC accepts the Court's suggestion to clarify its rules on filing Charges.

The case is Federal Express Corporation v. Holowecki, and the opinion is here.