People file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission everyday. In the 2011 fiscal year, some 9,900 charges were filed in Texas. The charge starts with a questionnaire filled out by the employee. An EEOC worker then prepares a charge for the complainant based on the questionnaire. In theory, the complainant would review the proposed charge and make any necessary corrections before signing. But, in reality, the complainant does not understand the legal import of the charge and does not make corrections or suggestions. Many times, the EEOC intake worker overlooks key facts.
In Lopez v. Texas State University, __ S.W.3d __, 2012 WL 1403247 (Tex.App. Austin 2012), the EEOC did indeed omit key facts from the charge. The complainant apparently did not object. The employee did not check the box to indicate her charge was based on race. The narrative portion did set forth that she believed she was discriminated against because she was Hispanic. Hispanic ethnic origin is not necessarily the same as race. But, the court found that Ms. Lopez did sufficiently raise the potential race issue. It allowed her claim based on race to proceed.
But, her charge did not include some important facts regarding her allegation of reprisal for opposing discriminatory practices. These facts did appear in her questionnaire, but not the charge. The EEOC apparently omitted these facts from the charge. The court found that flaw to be fatal. Ms.Lopez did not allege sufficient facts in her charge regarding retaliation to support a lawsuit based on retaliation, found the court.
All too often, the complaining worker does not review the charge adequately before signing. They frequently do not question omissions later – apparently not realizing the legal significance until much too late. The EEOC exists as an early form of tort reform. When The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Congress sought to reduce the number of lawsuits by creating the EEOC. The EEOC, envisioned the 1964 Congress, would investigate many complains and render lawsuits largely unnecessary. By the mid-1970’s, it became clear that the EEOC could never keep up with the great many charges being filed. But, these little procedural minefields still remain. They obsruct many otherwise valid lawsuits. See Lopez decision here.