Procedure for Establishing a Discrimination Claim
Key Point 8-11. Employees and applicants for employment who believe that an employer has violated a federal civil rights law must pursue their claim according to a specific procedure. Failure to do so will result in the dismissal of their claim.
The procedures for filing claims under the federal discrimination laws discussed in this chapter are fairly consistent. Church leaders should be familiar with the following procedures in the event that a discrimination complaint is brought against their church:
1. Filing a charge with the EEOC. An "aggrieved" individual, a person acting on behalf of an aggrieved individual, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) itself may file a "charge" with the EEOC. The charge is a complaint filed on an EEOC form that alleges discrimination by an employer. In most cases, the charge is brought by the aggrieved individual claiming to have been a victim of discrimination in employment.
2. Notification of employer. Within ten days of the filing of the charge, the EEOC sends the employer a "notice" of the charge. The notice includes a summary of the alleged discrimination.
3. Investigations by state or local civil rights agencies. If the aggrieved person files a charge with a state or local civil rights agency, then no charge may be filed with the EEOC until at least 60 days have elapsed since the charge was filed with the state or local agency.
4. Time for filing charges. A charge must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days after the alleged discriminatory practice occurred. If a charge was initially filed with a state or local civil rights agency, then the charge must be filed with the EEOC by the earlier of the following two dates: (1) 300 days after the alleged discriminatory practice occurred, or (2) 30 days after notice from the state or local agency that it has terminated its proceedings regarding the charge.
5. EEOC investigation—no reasonable cause exists. The EEOC investigates the charge. If it determines that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true, it dismisses the charge and notifies the aggrieved person and employer of its decision. In deciding if reasonable cause exists, the EEOC must give "substantial weight" to the findings of any state or local civil rights agency that conducted its own investigation. If a charge is dismissed by the EEOC, or if the EEOC has not brought a civil lawsuit within 180 days of the filing of the charge, then the EEOC notifies the aggrieved person that he or she may file a civil lawsuit against the employer within 90 days of such notice. This is referred to as a "right-to-sue notice."
6. EEOC investigation—reasonable cause exists. If the EEOC determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true, then it attempts to eliminate the alleged discriminatory practice by such informal methods as conferences, conciliation, and persuasion. If an employer accused of discrimination does not enter into a conciliation agreement with the EEOC within 30 days of the filing of the charge, then the EEOC may sue the employer in federal court on account of the alleged violation of the applicable federal civil rights law. Further, if the EEOC determines that reasonable cause exists, and the employer refuses to conciliate, then it sends the aggrieved party a "right to sue notice." A charging party may file a lawsuit within 90 days after receiving a right to sue notice from the EEOC. Under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act, a charging party also can request a right to sue notice from EEOC 180 days after the charge was first filed, and may then bring suit within 90 days after receiving this notice. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a suit may be filed at any time 60 days after filing a charge with EEOC, but not later than 90 days after EEOC gives notice that it has completed action on the charge.
7. Federal court procedure. The plaintiff (the aggrieved person) bears the initial burden of proving that the employer engaged in the discriminatory practice. This can be done by direct evidence of discrimination, but more often it is done by showing "disparate treatment"—that is, the aggrieved party was treated less favorably than other employees who were not members of a protected group. The courts have ruled that a plaintiff can meet the initial burden of proof by establishing a "prima facie case" of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. This is done by showing that (1) the plaintiff is a member of a class protected by a federal, state, or local civil rights law; (2) the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment decision (such as not being hired if a job applicant, or being dismissed or disciplined if an employee); (3) a direct relationship exists between membership in the protected class and the adverse employment decision.
If the plaintiff is successful in making out a prima facie case of discrimination, then a presumption of discrimination exists, and the burden shifts to the employer to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. If the employer demonstrates a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, then the presumption is rebutted and the plaintiff must prove that the nondiscriminatory reason was a pretext for discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
8. Remedies. A variety of remedies are available to persons who establish that they were victims of employment discrimination. These include money damages and injunctive relief.
Case study. An Ohio court ruled that a church school had not violated age discrimination law by dismissing an unmarried male teacher and female teacher who were living together in violation of church doctrine. Two teachers who had been dismissed by a church school sued the school claiming that their dismissals amounted to unlawful age discrimination. A court noted that employees who claim discrimination have the initial burden of establishing a "prima facie case" of discrimination. This requires proof that (1) they are a member of a class protected by a federal, state, or local civil rights law; (2) they suffered an adverse employment decision (such as being dismissed); (3) a direct relationship exists between membership in the protected class and the adverse employment decision. If an employee is successful in making out a prima facie case of discrimination, then a presumption of discrimination exists, and the burden shifts to the employer to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. If the employer demonstrates a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, then the presumption is rebutted and the employee must prove that the nondiscriminatory reason was a "pretext" for discrimination. The court conceded that the teachers had proven a prima facie case of discrimination since they were members of a protected class (40 years of age or older) and had been terminated and replaced with younger teachers. In response, the school alleged a nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the teachers. It asserted that the teachers had been dismissed because they failed to comply with church doctrine when they cohabited without being married. The teachers were unable to prove that the school's allegedly nondiscriminatory basis for terminating them was a "pretext." As a result, the court concluded that the teachers' age discrimination claim had to be dismissed. Basinger v. Pilarczyk, 738 N.E.2d 814 (Ohio App. 2000).