Hostile Work Environment Claim Not Administratively Exhausted; Dismissed

In Moore v. Louis Dejoy, 18-CV-9967, 2022 WL 1239688 (S.D.N.Y. April 27, 2022), the court dismissed plaintiff’s age-based hostile work environment claim, since plaintiff did not “administratively exhaust” that claim at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

From the decision:

Because she did not file a formal complaint regarding alleged improper comments or a hostile work environment at the administrative level, Plaintiff cannot now pursue that claim in federal court. See id. at 76 (focusing on the factual allegations in the EEO Complaint to determine whether a claim had been presented to the agency for purposes of administrative exhaustion); Belgrave, 254 F.3d at 386 (affirming dismissal of untimely filed formal administrative complaint); Heathington v. Harvey, No. 04-CV-4501, 2005 WL 2077282, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2005) (dismissing Title VII claim because plaintiff did not file formal administrative complaint and thus did not exhaust the required procedures).

An exception to the exhaustion requirement may be made for claims not formally asserted before the agency if they are “reasonably related” to those properly filed with the agency. See Williams v. New York City Housing Authority, 458 F.3d 67, 70 (2d Cir. 2006). But that cannot save Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim. The reasonably-related inquiry hinges on “the factual allegations made in the EEOC charge itself, describing the discriminatory conduct about which a plaintiff is grieving.” Id. (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). For a new claim to be considered “reasonably related” to claims advanced during the administrative phase, the “factual underpinnings” of the newly-asserted claim must be present in a formal administrative complaint. Id. at 71. That is not the case here.

The formal administrative complaint that Plaintiff did file alleged only that she was wrongfully charged 40 hours of AWOL and that management officials called her physician to inquire into her medical condition. The claims presented to the agency concerned those two discrete events. The EEOC investigation therefore reasonably focused on whether Plaintiff’s absence from work between December 2 and December 9, 2017, was justified; whether she submitted the appropriate documentation to substantiate her absences; and whether management officials called her physician to inquire into her medical condition. Given the narrow claims presented, the investigators would not reasonably have inquired into claims of a hostile work environment, let alone one specifically directed to age discrimination.

The court further observed that “the mere, vague reference of ‘age’ and pressure to retire,’ hardly sufficed to provide notice to the EEOC of Plaintiff’s age-based hostile work environment claim.”

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