7th Circuit Reverses Judgment for Defendants in Title VII Retaliation Lawsuit

On November 25, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed a judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendants in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit, in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer retaliated against her for filing administrative claims of race, age and gender discrimination.  Moreland v. Johnson, Secretary of U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, No. 15-1291 (7th Cir., 11/25/2015).  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits an employer from taking adverse job action against an employee in retaliation for the employee's protected activity, which includes the filing of administrative claims of employment discrimination.  The plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to disparate treatment in connection with various terms and conditions of employment in retaliation for her discrimination charges.

The district court granted the Department of Homeland Security's motion for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by failing to amend her original administrative claim of discrimination to add the retaliation claim.  Under Title VII, a plaintiff must exhaust administrative remedies before filing a complaint in federal court.  However, a complainant's failure to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing a lawsuit against her employer does not bar her claim in federal court when the failure to amend the charge to add a new claim was due to the fault of the EEOC.  In this case, the EEOC administrative law judge had directed the pro se complainant to file a new and separate administrative claim for retaliation, which she did; but the EEOC failed to consolidate it with her original discrimination claim.  Because it was the EEOC's fault that the retaliation claim did not become part of the original case, the lawsuit should not have been dismissed.  The plaintiff will be allowed to proceed with her Title VII retaliation claim.