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Federal Courts Continue to Lower Bar for EEOC Filings

    Client Alerts
  • June 27, 2008

In its Holowecki decision in March, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the submittal filing of an affidavit with the EEOC constituted a legitimate age discrimination complaint even though no sworn charge was ever filed.  Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals continued this relaxed standard for determining when plaintiffs have met their burden of initiating an administrative charge of discrimination.

In Holender v. Mutual Industries North, Inc., the plaintiff never filed a sworn charge affidavit.  Instead, he completed the EEOC’s intake questionnaire, and attached a written narrative containing his allegations of age discrimination.  He did not indicate on the form that he wanted to file a charge against his employer at that point.  The plaintiff never responded to EEOC instructions to complete the charge filing process, and instead sued his employer in federal district court.  His employer was granted summary judgment on its motion to dismiss the claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under ADEA.

On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded the case.  The court liberally construed Holowecki, and concluded that pre-charge informational filings can be enough to constitute a properly filed administrative charge under ADEA.  The filing was clearly a complaint and request for remedial action by the EEOC even though the plaintiff failed to check the box indicating he wished to file a charge of discrimination at that time.  The Third Circuit also refused to draw a distinction between the pro se charge in Holowecki, and the fact that the plaintiff here was represented by counsel when he completed the EEOC questionnaire.

As the first post-Holowecki appellate court decision, this case makes clear the liberal filing standard that will be applied to age discrimination cases.  Courts simply will not punish employees for the EEOC’s failure to make certain that paperwork submitted to the agency has been fully completed in a timely manner.  Employers face limited options for challenging the administrative sufficiency of charge filings.