Proper labeling may not always be required for EEOC charges

In Tennessee and other areas of the country, an individual usually requires a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing an employment discrimination lawsuit. After investigating a complaint, the EEOC will determine whether there is cause to believe sexual discrimination occurred and the type of discrimination involved.

However, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently revived a sexual discrimination suit against an employer who sought dismissal because the EEOC right-to-sue letter did not identify the type of discrimination alleged. The lawsuit alleged that the employee was discharged after refusing the sexual advances of a superior. In Title VII cases, this is known as quid pro quo discrimination. A lower court agreed with the employer, but the court of appeals reversed the decision.

The appeals court noted that the terms "quid pro quo" and "hostile work environment" are not used in the Title VII statutes. A quirk in this case is that the employee submitted extra material to the EEOC that added more details to the complaint, but this material was omitted inadvertently by the EEOC.

Even without the additional material, the court determined that enough facts were stated on the EEOC form to cause an investigation by the commission. It also rejected the claims of the employer that it had improper notice of the allegations.

For victims of sexual harassment, it's often helpful to seek the services of an employment law attorney. Counsel may be familiar with EEOC complaint procedures and the investigation process. The attorney can assist the client in this stage by going through a full interview of all facts leading to the complaint. The question and answer session could help the attorney prepare a fully complete complaint.

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