The Scope of an EEOC Charge Defines the Scope of a Lawsuit


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently reminded employers (and employees) of this principle when it rejected the claims that an employee failed to include in her charge of discrimination before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Before filing a discrimination lawsuit in federal court, employees must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC regarding the allegedly discriminatory acts. As the Fourth Circuit has previously noted, “Only those discrimination claims stated in the initial charge, those reasonably related to the original complaint, and those developed by reasonable investigation of the original complaint may be maintained in a subsequent Title VII [or ADEA] lawsuit.”

In the present case of Walton v. Harker, the employee filed a charge regarding her reassignment to a different position, which she termed “a demotion.” During her lawsuit, however, in response to the employer’s motion for summary judgment (in which the employer argued that, as a matter of law, her claims had no merit), the employee, for the first time, asserted claims that she had been excluded from a particular team and denied unspecified promotions. The Fourth Circuit noted that these new claims had not been raised in her initial charge, did not surface during the EEOC investigation, and were not reasonably related to her supposed demotion. Accordingly, she had failed to meet the administrative prerequisite of filing a charge regarding these matters, and the Fourth Circuit threw out these claims.

In defending against a federal lawsuit, therefore, it is important for employers (or, really, their counsel) to review the original charge and investigative materials in order to ensure that the employee has, in fact, satisfied the administrative charge filing requirement as to all claims. An employee’s failure to do so should result in the dismissal of any claims beyond the scope of the charge.