In a recent decision, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri ruled that a former retail store manager preserved his employment discrimination claim when he filled out an intake questionnaire with the EEOC, but not a formal charge of discrimination, within 300 days of the date the alleged discrimination occurred. See Dancy v. Wireless Vision, LLC, Case No. 4:20-cv-00764, 2020 WL 6742757 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 17, 2020).
Darrell Dancy (“Dancy”), who is African American, filed a lawsuit against his former employer—Wireless Vision, LLC (“Defendant”)—alleging unlawful race discrimination under federal and state laws. Dancy worked for the Defendant from March 2014 until February 19, 2016, when he was terminated.
Dancy filed with the EEOC an initial intake questionnaire about 273 days later, on which he checked boxes for discrimination based on race, retaliation, and pregnancy. Dancy provided a narrative that generally described the events leading up to his termination, as well as his concerns about being treated differently than others. Above his signature on the form, Dancy checked the box indicating he wished to file a charge of discrimination and authorizing EEOC to investigate.
Dancy did not file a formal charge of discrimination until December 10, 2018, at which time he was represented by counsel. In this charge, Dancy clarified his narrative and discrimination claims. EEOC subsequently issued him a right to sue letter and litigation followed.
Defendant moved to dismiss Dancy’s claims as untimely based on the fact Dancy did not file a formal charge of discrimination until December 2018—that is, well over 300 days after his termination. The Court ultimately concluded Dancy’s claims were timely filed and rejected Defendant’s arguments for the following reasons.
First, the Court found that the information Dancy provided in the initial EEOC intake questionnaire satisfied the requirements of applicable regulations as far as required content for a charge of discrimination. This information included basic allegations about race discrimination and being treated differently than others. The Court concluded, “while not the model of clarity,” the questionnaire could be fairly read as alleging race discrimination.
Second, the Court found Dancy’s questionnaire could be construed as a request for agency action, as required by United States Supreme Court precedent—that is, Fed. Exp. Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389 (2008) (a questionnaire can constitute a charge where it contains the information required by applicable regulation and can be reasonably construed as a request for agency action).
Third, the Court rejected Defendant’s argument that the 2018 formal charge was “too different” from the questionnaire such that the questionnaire did not provide sufficient notice of his actual claim. In so doing, the Court emphasized applicable regulations that expressly permit a claimant to “clarify and amplify” prior allegations during the administrative process. The Court reasoned that, even though Dancy provided new information in his 2018 formal charge and “state[d] a slightly different motivation” related to race, it found Dancy was “at bottom, still alleging that his termination was racially motivated” in his formal charge such that it related back to the same allegations in the initial EEOC intake questionnaire.
The timeframe for submitting charges of discrimination to the appropriate government agencies is particularly important in employment discrimination cases. Failure to timely file claims can result in dismissal motions early on in a lawsuit, as courts often stress the fact that companies must be fairly and timely notified of serious charges against them like claims of discrimination. See "Understanding Charges of Discrimination"
Nonetheless, applicable rules contemplate that certain claims may be “filed” when an employee complains to the EEOC with sufficient information and allegations before hiring an attorney to prepare a formal charge of discrimination.
In any event, it is always important to promptly retain counsel to fully understand your rights and obligations in cases like this one where the ultimate answer may not be clear cut. Contact us for more information regarding potential legal representation.