July 1996

Workplace Labor Update - Procedural and Fairness Matters – July 1996

3 min

Venable's own Ron Taylor achieved a significant victory in April when he persuaded the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to uphold the dismissal of sexual harassment, age and sex discrimination claims due to the plaintiff's failure to include those allegations in her initial administrative charge and her failure to timely file an amended administrative charge. Evans v. Technologies Applications & Service Company, 80 F.3d 954 (4th Cir. 1996). Evans filed an initial administrative charge of discrimination with the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission (the “MCHRC”) in April, 1993, alleging that TAS failed to promote her in February 1993 because of her gender in violation of Title VII. Just short of one year later - in April, 1994 - Evans amended her MCHRC charge to include an allegation that TAS' failure to promote her in February 1993 also constituted age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. One month later, Evans filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland claiming violations of Title VII and the ADEA. Besides her promotion and age discrimination claim, in her complaint Evans also claimed that she had been sexually harassed by a TAS co-worker in 1990, that she had been passed over for a promotion by TAS in 1991, and that she received different pay, benefits and seniority than younger male TAS employees. After removing the case to federal court, TAS argued that plaintiff's promotion, sexual harassment, age discrimination and wage and benefits discrimination claims should be dismissed as outside the scope of her initial charge with the MCHRC. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of TAS on those claims. Evans appealed to the Fourth Circuit. She argued that the district court improperly dismissed her claims inasmuch as they were within the scope of her initial charge or, alternatively, because they “related back” to the initial charge before the MCHRC. The Fourth Circuit disagreed and issued an opinion which serves to remind all Fourth Circuit litigants that the federal anti-discrimination statutes contain mandatory deadlines for the filing of administrative charges and lawsuits. The court noted that although allegations of discriminatory conduct made beyond the filing deadlines may be “relevant background evidence to a timely claim, they cannot provide the basis for a claim themselves.” Further, the Court of Appeals instructed would-be litigants that the “allegations contained in the administrative charge of discrimination generally operate to limit the scope of any subsequent judicial complaint.” Allowing a plaintiff to proceed with a claim that was not contained in or related to an initial charge or timely filed amendment, the court opined “would eviscerate the administrative charge filing requirement altogether by depriving the employer of adequate notice and resulting in a failure to investigate by the responsible agency.” Although the Evans decision does not radically alter Title VII precedent in the Fourth Circuit, the decision is important because it reiterates the rule that plaintiffs invoking the protection of federal courts pursuant to federal anti-discrimination statutes must first follow the procedural requirements of those laws.