Failure to “Check the Box” on EEOC Complaint Bars Employee’s Hostile Work Environment Claim

In a pro se case decided a few months ago, the United States District Court of Florida granted summary judgment for Target Corp., the employer of the plaintiff, denying the employee’s Title VII claim of hostile work environment for checking the wrong boxes on her EEOC claim.[1]

The plaintiff in the case was employed by the defendant, Target Corp.  During the period before her pregnancy in 2008 and 2009, she received positive performance reviews of “meets expectations” and “effective.”[2]  In 2010, she informed Target that she was pregnant. On May 19, 2010, the employee received another “effective” on a Team Member Performance Review, but that review also contained several comments, including:

I challenge you to focus on communicating with your supervisors about any conflicts with your availability. The store is staffed according to the guest traffic and business. When team members do not show for their shifts or do not communicate with their ETL about conflicts with their availability, it makes it difficult for the team to successfully accomplish their tasks….[3]

The employee claimed that her supervisor told her that any further absences could cost the plaintiff her job. In her deposition, the employee stated:

[Supervisor] told me that I could not ask for a day off under any circumstances. That I could not call in to request an absence. And that I knew what would happen to me if from that day on I would call saying I was not going to work. During [t]he meeting she repeated those phrases about five or six times. She told me that the Target schedule was already set, and the fact that I called, that I would call in a certain day for an absence, it would send, it would make the Target schedule out of control…. She wanted me to work under any condition. Placing my life and my baby’s life at risk.[4]

The employee also stated that her supervisor placed her on a “one-week probation and if during that week I missed work for any reason, that I would be terminated. The employee did not present any medical notes to her supervisor during the meeting on June 11, 2010; in fact, the employee was not told that her pregnancy was high-risk until June 14, 2010.[5]  On June 14, 2010, she delivered another letter to Target, this one alleging pregnancy discrimination and informing Target that a charge would be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.[6]  The employee filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on June 15, 2010. On the charge, she checked only the box labeled “sex,” but not the box for “retaliation,” or the box labeled “continuing action.”[7]

Before filing a suit under Title VII, a plaintiff must exhaust her available administrative remedies by first filing a charge with the EEOC. “The starting point of ascertaining the permissible scope of a judicial complaint alleging employment discrimination is the administrative charge and investigation.”[8] Circuit Courts has stated that a plaintiff’s complaint is “limited by the scope of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.” New claims “are allowed if they amplify, clarify, or more clearly focus the allegations in the EEOC complaint….” [9]

The Court reasoned the proper inquiry was whether her Amended Complaint was like or related to, or grew out of, the allegations contained in her EEOC charge. The checked only the box labeled “sex” on her EEOC charge of discrimination; but did not check the box for “retaliation,” or the box labeled “continuing action.”  While the Court found that her claim for retaliation under Title VII was not barred because it grew out of her earlier charge, the Court stated that her failure to check “continuing action” precluded her from asserting a Title VII claim for sexual harassment through hostile work environment.[10]

Failure to follow proper administrative procedure when filing a discrimination claim with the EEOC can bar an otherwise valid claim.  If you are the victim of sexual harassment or discriminatory treatment in the workplace, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced employment law practitioner.  The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in New York City, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions workplace discrimination, Title VII discrimination or any other employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 

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[1] Penaloza v. Target Corp., 8:11-CV-2656-T-33AEP, 2012 WL 6721011 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 27, 2012)

[2] Doc. # 45–3 at 2

[3] Doc. # 45–3 at 3

[4] Penaloza Dep. Doc. # 35 at 19

[5] Doc. # 34 at 6, 9; Penaloza Dep. Doc. # 35 at 13–14, 22

[6] Doc. # 35–2 at 17

[7] Doc. # 35–2 at 8

[8] Anderson v. Embarq / Sprint, 379 F. App’x 924, 926 (11th Cir.2010)

[9] Id.

[10] Penaloza v. Target Corp., 8:11-CV-2656-T-33AEP, 2012 WL 6721011 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 27, 2012)