7th Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Age Discrimination Lawsuit where the Employee-Plaintiff Misnamed the Employer-Defendant in his Original EEOC Charge of Discrimination

On June 7, 2019, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an age discrimination complaint on the ground that the plaintiff had incorrectly named the defendant in his EEOC charge.  Trujillo v. Rockledge Furniture LLC, Nos. 18-3349 & 19-1651 (7th Cir. June 7, 2019).  The plaintiff filed a charge of age discrimination and retaliation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after his employment was terminated.  In his charge, the plaintiff failed to list the correct legal name of the defendant.  The district court dismissed his claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because he did not name his employer sufficiently, and because the EEOC did not notify the correct employer of the charge.

The Seventh Circuit reversed because the plaintiff named his employer sufficiently in his original EEOC charge, and because the EEOC's error in processing his charge does not bar him from suing his employer.  The purpose of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), is to reduce discrimination in the workplace.  Thus, it is inappropriate to undermine the purpose and effectiveness of these statutes by dismissing discrimination claims merely because the victim of the discrimination failed to comply with the "intricate technicalities of the statute."  There are specific requirements though.  An ADEA claimant must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and then wait sixty days before filing a federal age discrimination lawsuit.  EEOC regulations define an ADEA charge to mean a statement filed with the EEOC alleging that the named prospective defendant has violated the ADEA.  A charge must be in writing, name the prospective respondent, and generally allege the discriminatory acts.  A charge should, but is not required to, contain the full name and address of the employer against whom the charge is made.  Upon receiving the charge, the EEOC is supposed to serve notice of the charge and seek to eliminate any alleged unlawful employment practice through conciliation.  The error in naming the employer in the original charge did not require dismissal of the plaintiff's case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  He provided the correct address and telephone number of his place of employment, and he gave a name that was only missing one word from the employer's assumed business name on file with the state.  It was not a failure to name a party altogether, but a minor error in stating the name of the employer.  The minor naming error does not defeat the plaintiff's ability to pursue his claim.  The slight difference between the exact business name and the name used in the charge should not have prevented the EEOC from reaching the proper employer and pursuing possible conciliation.  The plaintiff will be able to proceed with his age discrimination case.