The federal court of appeals for Maryland, Virginia and other mid-Atlantic states recently addressed the issue of whether a claimant, who brings a charge of discrimination against an employer, is barred from maintaining a civil action against that employer after administrative conciliation efforts fail because the claimant believed the proposed conciliation agreement did not offer "full relief."
In Long v. Ringling Bros.--Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows, Inc., 63 FEP Cases 289 (4th Cir. 1993), the Fourth Circuit was faced with Long's claim that she was denied a position with the tour, although she was qualified, because Ringling Bros. wanted to hire a male. After Long filed her claim of sex discrimination with the EEOC, and the EEOC determined there was reason to believe that Ringling had violated Long's rights, the administrative conciliation process began. Ringling offered what it considered to be full restitution for Long's claims, but Long rejected the offer and eventually received a notice of right to sue from the EEOC.
Long timely filed her complaint in federal court and Ringling moved for dismissal on the grounds that Long's failure to accept its offer of full relief during conciliation barred her from filing suit in federal court. According to Ringling, since Long had turned down full relief before the EEOC, a court could do no more for her. The lower court agreed and awarded judgment to Ringling.
On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the court first determined that Long had met all necessary jurisdictional prerequisites by timely filing her charge with the EEOC and by acting on her notice of right to sue. Since Long satisfied her two statutory prerequisites prior to filing her complaint, she was entitled to de novo resolution of her claim in district court. Therefore, although Long failed to accept the "full relief" offered at the administrative level, she was not barred from once again seeking redress in court.
However, the court pointed out that where the plaintiff previously declined an offer during conciliation, an employer can file an offer of judgment -- setting forth an estimation of the maximum relief the plaintiff would receive. If the plaintiff declines that offer, and subsequently obtains a less favorable judgment, the employer may be entitled to the costs and attorneys' fees it incurred after the offer of judgment was served. This is something employers should keep in mind and discuss with counsel.