While affirming summary judgment in a humdrum, pro se Title VII case, the Sixth Circuit pauses to hold — in an issue of apparent first impression in a published case in that circuit — that an EEOC charge that does not expressly state a hostile work environment claim will not preserve such a claim for a later civil action, even if the conduct stated in the charge includes evidence of co-worker harassment.
Younis v. Pinnacle Airlines, Inc., No. 08-6112 (6th Cir. June 30, 2010): In this case, the employee alleged discrimination based on religion and national origin, as well as retaliation. He litigated his claims through summary judgment on the merits. The court found that his harassment claim — based on various comments made by co-workers — had not been “administratively exhausted” by a timely charge with the EEOC, and that for the balance of his claims that he lacked a prima facie case.
The panel affirms the dismissal of the harassment charge owing to the lack of a specific reference to harassment:
“The problem in this case is that in his EEOC filing, Younis did not allege a claim of hostile work environment, and he cited only discrete acts of alleged discrimination, limited to three or four isolated comments by his peers that occurred over a three-year period. In order to establish a claim of hostile work environment, however, a plaintiff must present evidence of harassment that ‘unreasonably interfer[es] with [his] work performance and creat[es] an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.’ As a result, we have suggested in several unreported cases that the inclusion in an EEOC charge of a discrete act or acts, standing alone, is insufficient to establish a hostile-work-environment claim for purposes of exhaustion. We now hold that such evidence, cited in an EEOC charge to support a claim of disparate treatment, will not also support a subsequent, uncharged claim of hostile work environment ‘unless the allegations in the complaint can be reasonably inferred from the facts alleged in the charge.'” [Citations and footnote omitted.]
The panel drops the retaliation claim essentially on the same basis, holding that the failure to check the “retaliation” box or to allege a retaliatory motive doomed that claim. In summary fashion, the panel affirms the rest of the summary judgment on the grounds cited by the district court.
Bearing in mind that the case was uncounseled, it seems unduly harsh to hold that an EEOC charge that otherwise included evidence of harassing statements (notably, being referred to as “boy”) could not have been enough, as a matter of law, to prompt the EEOC to investigate a hostile work environment claim. This verges, it seems to me, on a jury question, i.e., whether the EEOC might have investigated such a claim on this charge. The answer to that was unfairly cut short by the panel.
Moreover, though this is mainly my pet peeve, I bristle at the continued reference to the EEOC charge-filing requirement as “administrative exhaustion.” Only federal employees must exhaust remedies. Private-sector employees need only file a charge with the EEOC, cross-file with the local civil-rights enforcement agency, and wait until the issuance of right-to-sue letter, which they may request at least 180 days after filing; nothing more is required.