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Court rules on EEOC ‘charge’ standard

Today the Supreme Court ruled that an EEOC intake questionnaire filled out by a FedEx employee constituted a “charge” of discrimination, triggering the agency’s duty to notify the employer and giving the employee, after a period of time, the ability to file a discrimination suit.

If you recall, it was during oral arguments in this case, Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, that justice Antonin Scalia expressed his serious dismay at the agency for failing to make clear to claimants what a “charge” is, and admonished the agency to “get its act in order.”

Today, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion did not set a hard and fast rule that such questionnaires always constitute a charge, but rather held that “a filing is deemed a charge if the document reasonably can be construed to request agency action and appropriate relief on the employee’s behalf.”

As to whether the employee in the case met that test, Kennedy wrote: “The agency says it does, and we agree.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, who once helmed the EEOC, did not agree. In a dissent joined by Scalia, Thomas wrote: “Because the standard the Court applies is broader than the ordinary meaning of the term “charge,” and because it is so malleable that it effectively absolves the EEOC of its obligation to administer the ADEA according to discernable standards, I respectfully dissent.”

The opinion can be found on the Court’s website here.

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