Sometimes, if you want it done wrong, you have to do it yourself.
Ze-Ze v. Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States Regions, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:10cv959 (E.D.Va. January 28, 2011). Marie N. Ze-Ze worked as a clinical assistant at a clinic operated by Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States Regions, Inc. (“Kaiser”), from early 1989 through February 20, 2008. Ze-Ze is a native of Cameroon, Africa, and was infected with hepatitis C through the performance of her job duties. On August 5, 2009, Ze-Ze filed a complaint alleging that she was discriminated against and ultimately forced to resign from her job. Ze-Ze said that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; her genetic information, in violation of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (GINA); her age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); and her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Ze-Ze filed both her initial complaint and her EEOC charge pro se; that is, without the help of an attorney. In her complaint, Ze-Ze alleged that a pattern of harassment existed within her workplace, identifying a harassing phone call and negative performance reviews, and claimed that her employer favored a Caucasian co-worker because of her race. She argued that her employer failed to promote her because of her age and that she was coerced into resignation by several white supervisors who discriminated against her because of her race.
Ze-Ze had, within the appropriate time frame, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 25, 2008, and alleged discrimination based only on her race and national origin. Notably, she did not check the boxes for “age,” “disability,” or “other,” and did not describe any discrimination based on these characteristics.
Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction over Ze-Ze’s claims under GINA, the ADEA, and the ADA because Ze-Ze failed to specifically plead those claims and exhaust her administrative remedies before the EEOC. The court agreed. Put simply, a plaintiff must raise a discrimination claim with the EEOC or with a similar state agency before bringing her claim in federal court. The charge filed with the EEOC must be precise enough that it serves the purpose of putting the employer on notice and providing an opportunity for settlement. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that the charge be both specific and comprehensive. Because Ze-Ze’s charge did not mention any allegations of discrimination under GINA, the ADEA, or the ADA, the court had no choice but to dismiss those claims.
Defendants Motion to Dismiss also addressed Ze-Ze’s Title VII claims, arguing that many of her discrimination claims were time-barred. In order for a Title VII claim to be timely, a charge must have been submitted to the EEOC within 300 days after the discrimination took place. Much of the discrimination that Ze-Ze alleged took place more than 300 days before she filed her charge; thus, those claims were time-barred and the court could not hear them.
Ze-Ze argued that she could escape dismissal based on a time-bar under the “continuing violation” doctrine. This doctrine provides that if at least one act falls within the 300-day period, then any acts that are related to that act may be considered for purposes of liability. Rather than accepting Ze-Ze’s argument that the otherwise time-barred acts of discrimination she alleged were part of a continuing violation, the Court instead decided that those acts were discrete. Ze-Ze did not allege that the discrimination she encountered created a hostile work environment, with ongoing harassment; instead, she alleged a series of unconnected events, each of which individually amounted to discrimination. As a result, the Court dismissed most of her Title VII race and national origin discrimination claims as time-barred.
Ze-Ze’s case emphasizes the importance of having an experienced attorney when bringing an employment lawsuit. If an attorney had carefully drafted her EEOC charge and her complaint, within the appropriate deadlines and with the appropriate specificity, then Ze-Ze’s case may have turned out quite differently.