Federal Express Corporation v. Holowecki

PETITIONER: Federal Express Corporation
RESPONDENT: Paul Holowecki et al.
LOCATION: Earthquake Park

DOCKET NO.: 06-1322
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 552 US 389 (2008)
GRANTED: Jun 04, 2007
ARGUED: Nov 06, 2007
DECIDED: Feb 27, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Connie L. Lensing - on behalf of the Petitioner
David L. Rose - on behalf of the Respondents
Toby J. Heytens - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae supporting the Respondents

Facts of the case

Paul Holowecki and other employees of Federal Express sued the corporation for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). A district court judge dismissed the complaint on the ground that none of the plaintiffs had met the time limits and filing requirements of the ADEA. The ADEA requires that a plaintiff file a "charge" with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) 60 days prior to filing suit. Upon receiving the charge of discrimination, the EEOC notifies the employer of the accusation, investigates the matter, and offers to mediate. THE EEOC has an "Intake Questionnaire" form and a "Charge" form, but the EEOC regulations state only that "A charge shall be in writing and shall name the prospective respondent and shall generally allege the discriminatory act(s)." One of the plaintiffs completed an intake questionnaire, but the EEOC did not take the steps it should have taken after the filing of a charge. Holowecki sued over 60 days later, but the judge ruled that the intake questionnaire did not qualify as a charge for purposes of the AEDA.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, allowing Holowecki's suit to go forward. The Second Circuit ruled that the minimal written information required for a charge was contained in the intake questionnaire. The questionnaire also met the ADEA's implicit requirement that the charge be intended to start the process of an ADEA suit. The Second Circuit did not consider it significant that the EEOC did not act on the questionnaire, apparently not believing it to count as a charge. To dismiss a complaint based on the EEOC's inaction would be to hold the plaintiff accountable for the failings of the agency.

Question

Does an intake questionnaire submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission qualify as the charge of discrimination required by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, even if the EEOC did not treat the questionnaire as a charge?

Media for Federal Express Corporation v. Holowecki

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 2007 in Federal Express Corporation v. Holowecki

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 27, 2008 in Federal Express Corporation v. Holowecki

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This case arises under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the ADEA.

The petitioner, Federal Express Corporation, as is well-known here and around the world, provides mail pickup and delivery services to customers worldwide.

Respondents are 14 current and former FedEx couriers over the age of 40.

They filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

FedEx had implemented productivity initiatives that tied the courier's compensation and continued employment to certain performance, benchmarks, for instance the number of stops a courier makes per day and respondents claim these initiatives violated the ADA -- ADEA.

Our opinion today simply addresses a procedural problem and not that main substantive issue.

The question before us is the timeliness of the suit filed by one of the plaintiffs below referred to as the respondent.

The District Court granted motion -- petitioner's motion to dismiss.

It found that the respondent had not filed an EEOC charge before she commenced the suit in court and this did not meet the statutory requirement according to the District Court.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed.

We granted certiorari.

We now affirm the Court of Appeals.

The case presents two distinct questions, what is a charge as the ADA uses -- ADEA uses that term and were the documents respondent filed in December 2001, a charge.

The petitioner urges -- the employer urges as to condition the definition of charge enhance an employee's ability to sue upon the EEOC's fulfilling a mandatory duty to notify the charged party and initiate a conciliation process.

Respondent argues that a charge need contain only an allegation of discrimination and the name of the employer.

The EEOC submits that the proper test for determining whether a filing as a charge is whether the filing taken as a whole, should be construed as a request by the employee for the agency to take whatever action is necessary to vindicate her rights.

The EEOC has adopted this position in the Government’s amicus brief and in various internal policy directives that it is issued to its fielded officers over the years.

And in our view, the agency's policy statements interpret not only the regulations, but also the statute itself.

Assuming these interpretive statements are not entitled full Chevron deference, they are entitled to a measure of respect under the less deferential, Skidmore standard.

The agency's interpretation is and its interpretative position is consistent with the statutory framework and we conclude as follows.

In addition to the information required by the regulations, that is to say an -- an allegation in the name of the charged party, 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 employees' rights, or otherwise settle the dispute between the employer and the employee.

The next question is whether the filing here meets that test?

The agency says it does, we agree.

Respondent's completed intake form contained all of the -- information outlined in the regulations.

And the Affidavit that the respondent submitted along with the form is properly construed as a request for the agency to act.

The employer's interest in this case were given a short shrift, for it was not notified of the complaint until the employee filed a suit.

The Court adheres the merits of this litigation, can attempt to remedy of the deficiency by staying the proceedings to allow an opportunity for conciliation and settlement.

But the ultimate responsibility for establishing a clearer, more consistent process lies with the agency.

We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which Scalia has joined.