7th Circuit Explains Title VII Exhaustion Requirement

On August 28, 2019, the 7th Circuit issued an opinion in which it explained the exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine for Title VII employment discrimination claims.  Chaidez v. Ford Motor Company, No. 18-2753 (7th Cir. 8/28/2019).  The plaintiffs alleged a racially discriminatory hiring scheme that resulted in a lack of Hispanic and Latino line workers at the defendant's Chicago assembly plant.  The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding that the plaintiffs' claims were not "like or reasonably related to" the claims alleged in their EEOC charges.  The 7th Circuit concluded that the claims alleged in Count I of the plaintiffs' complaint were not exhausted before the EEOC and therefore affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count I.

The plaintiffs alleged two claims under Title VII:  disparate treatment (Count I) and disparate impact (Count II).  The complaint contained allegations supporting two alternative theories of discrimination:  "Either the pre-employment testing creates an impermissibly adverse impact on Hispanics and/or Latinos, or [the defendant] itself is excluding those of Hispanic and/or Latino descent from being processed for hire."  Count I alleged disparate treatment through pre-test destruction of or interference with employment applications, or defendant's prevention of Hispanic or Latino applicants from testing at all.  Count II alleged disparate impact caused by the skills test.  The district court dismissed the complaint in its entirely, holding that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies because the claims in the complaint were not "like or reasonably related to" the claims in the charges.

The issue on appeal was whether the claims asserted in the plaintiffs' complaint are like or reasonably related to the claims they asserted in their EEOC charges.  Before a plaintiff may bring a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit in court, the plaintiff must first exhaust her administrative remedies by filling charges of discrimination with the EEOC, and receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC.  After doing so, a plaintiff filing a lawsuit in federal court may only bring those claims that were included in her EEOC charge, or that are like or reasonably related to the allegations of the charge and growing out of the allegations of the charge.  The exhaustion requirement serves two purposes: (1) it allows the EEOC and the employer an opportunity to settle the employment dispute; and (2) it ensures that the employer has adequate notice of the employment conduct that the employee is challenging.  Claims are "like or reasonably related" when: (1) there is a reasonable relationship between the allegations in the charge and the claims in the complaint; and (2) the claim in the complaint can reasonably be expected to grow out of an EEOC investigation of the allegations in the charge.  The charge and the complaint must, at a minimum, describe the same conduct and implicate the same individuals.  A plaintiff cannot bring a new claim that is inconsistent with the claim in her EEOC charge, even if the new claim involves the same parties and the same facts as the other claim.  The fact that the charge and complaint generally assert the same type of discrimination is not sufficient, absent some factual relationship between them.  A plaintiff may not complain to the EEOC of only certain instances of discrimination, and then file a lawsuit based on different instances of discrimination.

In Count I of the complaint, the plaintiffs alleged a scheme of discrimination regarding the pre-test application process, including new claims that Hispanic and Latino applicants' contact information was destroyed or interfered with.  Count I alleged that Hispanic and Latino applicants were never allowed to begin pre-employment testing.  This was not the misconduct of which the EEOC charges placed the defendant on notice or provided an opportunity to settle.  The new claims of pre-test disparate treatment in Count I were not included in the EEOC charges, which asserted post-test disparate impact.  Thus, the claims in Count I were not like or reasonably related to the claims in the charges, and the dismissal of Count I was proper.