Disability-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed as Not Administratively Exhausted at EEOC

A recent case, Davis v. Arcelormittal USA, LLC, 18-cv-318 (N.D. Ind. April 15, 2022), is instructive on the “exhaustion of administrative remedies” principle of federal employment discrimination law.

Here (in sum) plaintiff submitted a Charge of Discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in which she asserted of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

In her ensuing lawsuit in court, plaintiff asserted these claims, as well as a claim for “hostile work environment.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that (1) plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and (2) plaintiff’s claim failed on the merits because plaintiff’s manager’s actions were not sufficiently “severe or pervasive.”

As to the first point (the court did not explicitly rule on the second), the court agreed with defendant.

It summarized the applicable “black-letter” law as follows:

An ADA plaintiff must file a charge with the EEOC before bringing a court action against an employer. A plaintiff is barred from raising a claim in the district court that had not been raised in his or her EEOC charge unless the claim is reasonably related to one of the EEOC charges and can be expected to develop from an investigation into the charges actually raised. To be ‘like or reasonably related,’ the relevant claim and the EEOC charge must, at minimum, describe the same conduct and implicate the same individuals. This rule serves two purposes: affording the EEOC the opportunity to settle the dispute between the employee and employer, and putting the employer on notice of the charges against it. Courts review the scope of an EEOC charge liberally.

[Cleaned up.]

Applying the law, the court explained:

In this case, it is undisputed that plaintiff’s original charge did not contain any allegations of harassment or hostile work environment. In her attempt to amend her original charge, plaintiff was permitted to clarify, amplify, or allege additional facts that are related to, or grow out of, the subject matter of the original charge: failure to accommodate and disparate treatment. However, she was not permitted to amend her original charge to add an entirely new form of discrimination, as she now claims to have done. Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim did not relate to, or grow out of, her original claims of failure to accommodate or disparate treatment. See e.g. Cheek, 31 F.3d at 503 (“When an EEOC charge alleges a particular theory of discrimination, allegations of a different type of discrimination in a subsequent complaint are not reasonably related to them unless the allegations in the complaint can be reasonably inferred from the facts alleged in the charge. Ordinarily, a claim of [ ] harassment cannot be reasonably inferred from allegations in an EEOC charge of [ ] discrimination.”). Plaintiff’s claim of hostile work environment cannot be reasonabl[y] inferred from the allegations in her EEOC charge.

Based on this, the court concluded that “plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with respect to her hostile work environment claim and defendant is entitled to summary judgment in its favor.”

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