In a 7-to-2 decision, the majority ruled against the employer’s strict exhaustion arguments and in favor of the employees who, with the support of the EEOC, advocated a more permissive standard. Justice Kennedy stated:
If the litigants had been represented by counsel, one wonders whether the ruling would have had a different outcome as the Court noted that under its
“If a filing is to be deemed a charge it must be reasonably construed as a request for the agency to take remedial action to protect the employee’s rights or otherwise settle a dispute between the employer and the employee”.
The ruling is in marked contrast with last year’s Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. where the court ruled 5 to 4 that employees complaining about discrimination in pay forfeited their right to sue if they did not file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of a manager’s discriminatory pay decision. The different outcomes result from the language in the relevant statutes. Both Title VII and the ADA expressly require the filing of a verified charge, the ADEA does not and lower courts have permitted ADEA claims to proceed upon the filing of an Intake Questionnaire, letter or other unverified document.
“...permissive standard a wide range of documents might be classified as charges. But this result is consistent with the design and purpose of the ADEA. Even in the formal litigation context, pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.”
In a strong dissent, Justice Thomas criticized the malleability of the Court’s decision stating:
“Today the Court decides that a “charge” of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) is whatever the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says it is…..Today’s decision does nothing—absolutely nothing—to solve the problem that under the EEOC’s current processes no one can tell, ex ante, whether a particular filing is or is not a charge.”
Source: Jurist Legal News and Research dated February 27, 2007