In Agosta v. Suffolk County (Nov. 8, 2013), the Eastern District of New York dismissed plaintiff’s claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Plaintiff alleged two ADA causes of action:
First, the Plaintiff claims that the [defendants] maliciously, intentionally and/or recklessly violated the ADA by treating the Plaintiff differently than similarly situated individuals without real and/or perceived disabilities. Second, the Plaintiff alleges that the [defendants] maliciously, intentionally and/or recklessly violated the ADA by retaliating against the Plaintiff for his opposition to discriminatory acts on the basis of his disability and/or participating in lodging a complaint about discriminatory practices.
Defendants based their FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the fact that plaintiff failed to include any ADA disability discrimination claim in his EEOC charge, and the ADA claim was not “reasonably related” to his sex and sexual orientation discrimination claims that he did raise. Plaintiff also failed to check the “disability discrimination” box in his complaint to the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR).
Plaintiff argued that the NYSDHR and EEOC were aware of, and could have investigated, the issue of disability discrimination because its investigation and report noted that plaintiff may have been subjected to differential treatment based on a real and/or perceived mental disability, and the disability discrimination claim was “reasonably related” to his EEOC allegations.
The court rejected plaintiff’s arguments and agreed with defendants. It summarized the law as follows:
A district court only has jurisdiction to hear claims brought pursuant to the ADA that are either contained in the EEOC charge or that are “reasonably related” to the claims in the EEOC charge. The purpose of this jurisdictional requirement is to give the EEOC the opportunity to investigate, mediate and take remedial action. …
[A] claim is considered reasonably related if the conduct complained of would fall within the scope of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge that was made. In this inquiry, the focus should be on the factual allegations made in the EEOC charge itself, describing the discriminatory conduct about which a plaintiff is grieving. The central question is whether the complaint filed with the EEOC gave that agency adequate notice to investigate discrimination on both bases.
[T]he Second Circuit has determined three situations in which a claim may be found to be reasonably related: 1) where the conduct complained of would fall within the ‘scope of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination; 2) where the complaint is one alleging retaliation by an employer against an employee for filing an EEOC charge; and 3) where the complaint alleges further incidents of discrimination carried out in precisely the same manner alleged in the EEOC charge. Thus, when a claim is simply a newly articulated cause of action that grows directly out of the factual allegations of the EEOC charge, the claim can be brought in district court.
Applying these principles, the court held that plaintiff’s ADA claims were not “reasonably related” to the claims asserted in his EEOC charge:
Plaintiff’s … EEOC Charge included claims for discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation, but not a mental disability. Although he may have a disability, in none of the factual allegations in the EEOC Charge did he suggest that he had any mental disability or any perceived mental disability or that he was being treated differently on this basis. Rather, the EEOC Charge only indicates that the Defendants’ alleged conduct involved sex and sexual orientation discrimination, which is distinct from disability discrimination because of the Plaintiff’s mental disability or perceived mental disability. The Plaintiff’s failure to provide any factual allegations that would imply discrimination on the basis of a mental disability in the EEOC Charge prevented the EEOC and the NYSDHR from receiving adequate notice to investigate discrimination on this basis. As such, the Court finds that the Plaintiff’s claim that he was discriminated against due to his mental disability or perceived mental disability is not reasonably related to the factual allegations contained in the EEOC Charge and therefore must be dismissed as procedurally barred. …
[T]here is nothing in the EEOC Charge that would have given the EEOC or the NYSDHR reason to investigate disability discrimination related to his mental disability or perceived mental disability. As discussed above, the EEOC Charge does not even mention that the Plaintiff has a mental disability or perceived mental disability, and therefore, the EEOC and NYSDHR would have no way of knowing that this was a potential basis for the alleged discriminatory conduct. Since the EEOC Charge did not even mention that the Plaintiff had a mental disability or perceived mental disability, it could not reasonably have alerted the EEOC [and NYSDHR] to investigate discrimination on this basis.
In addition, the court rejected plaintiff’s attempts to rely on the two witness statements contained in the NYSDHR investigation report. First, plaintiff’s position relied on evidence outside his pleadings, which is improper on a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion. Second, courts do not consider documents outside the EEOC charge when determining whether administrative remedies have been exhausted, since “it is the charge … that matters” since “only the charge can affect the process of conciliation.”