- A plaintiff's allegations of retaliation and hostile work environment based on sex discrimination "fell outside the scope" of his U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, affirming a district court's decision to dismiss the claims (Ortiz v. Waste Management, Inc. of Florida 19-cv-00168 (11th Cir. April 27, 2020)).
- Peter Ortiz, a route driver with Waste Management of Florida, complained to his supervisor and later HR when a co-worker filmed him using an on-site bathroom. HR investigated and demanded Ortiz reveal the identity of a "whistleblower," another co-worker who approached him with a copy of the video. Ortiz refused and was terminated.
- He filed a charge with the EEOC and stated the company retaliated against him for complaining about his co-worker and the video. In his civil complaint, however, Ortiz asserted he was subject to retaliation and a hostile work environment due to his sex. Waste Management "would have treated more seriously a similar incident involving a female employee," he said. A district court granted Waste Management's motion to dismiss his complaint because Ortiz's EEOC charge "simply said nothing about sex discrimination." The 11th Circuit affirmed.
Before filing civil complaints alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees must first file charges of discrimination with the EEOC, exhausting their administrative remedies. This allows the agency the opportunity to investigate the claims and fulfill "its role in obtaining voluntary compliance and promoting conciliation efforts," the 11th Circuit said.
A lawsuit may fall "within the scope" of an EEOC charge, however. Ortiz's did not, the courts ruled. But another may if the complaint is "like or related to, or grew out of, the allegations contained in the EEOC charge," the court noted.
Though the employer prevailed in this instance, this case hints at a common problem many employers encounter in their fight against harassment and discrimination: supervisors and managers.
Ortiz complained to his supervisor the day after his encounter with his co-worker in the bathroom. The supervisor did nothing in response, Ortiz alleged. He complained again, after realizing his co-worker had distributed copies of the video, and said the supervisor allegedly spoke with the two about the situation, telling the co-worker to delete the video. Ortiz alleged he learned later that the supervisor and the co-worker were "very good friends."
As experts have noted, supervisors and managers are a major cause of bias claims. Lack of preparedness, rather than negligence, may be to blame. A study from pelotonRPM revealed managers and leaders are not "well-prepared" to deal with harassment, bias, discrimination, bullying and other workplace issues. Many respondents to the August 2019 survey said they failed to follow up on complaints; 39% said they did not ask questions to identify a potential witness of an alleged incident. Attorneys recommend that HR conduct training to help remedy this.