In 2001, Patricia Kennedy filed an “intake questionnaire” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging age discrimination by her employer, Federal Express Corporation (“FedEx”), against her and other couriers. Because she did not file a formal “charge” document, the EEOC did not notify FedEx, investigate the claims, or begin conciliation efforts. Five months later, Kennedy, along with thirteen other past and present FedEx couriers over the age of forty, filed suit over this issue in federal court. The trial court granted FedEx’s motion to dismiss, ruling (among other things) that Kennedy could not sue because she never filed a timely charge with the EEOC as required by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that Kennedy’s intake questionnaire is a “charge” for the ADEA’s purpose because it manifests her intent to activate the EEOC’s investigation and conciliation process.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Whether the Second Circuit erred in concluding, contrary to the law of several other circuits and implicating an issue this Court has examined but not yet decided, that an "intake questionnaire" submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") may suffice for the charge of discrimination that must be submitted pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), even in the absence of evidence that the EEOC treated the form as a charge or the employee submitting the questionnaire reasonably believed it constituted a charge.
This case demonstrates the conflict between workers, employers, and the EEOC. Employers and the EEOC want to avoid dedication of resources to resolving employment discrimination claims that workers will not pursue. Workers with such claims want the ability to pursue them even if there is a misunderstanding of the procedure required to do so. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of FedEx, the burden would be on the worker to understand the law and act accordingly when pursuing an employment discrimination claim. A decision in favor of the Holowecki plaintiffs would obligate the EEOC to begin its administrative process upon receiving a substantially complete intake questionnaire rather than waiting for the worker to complete official charge paperwork and would place the greater burden on the employer.Written by:
Edited by: Cecelia Sander