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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Carolls Corporation

March 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge



Defendant is a corporation that owns and operates approximately 350 Burger King restaurants in sixteen states. Prompted by a complaint that a former employee of Defendant's Glens Falls, New York facility filed, Plaintiff commenced an investigation of Defendant's employment practices, focusing on a nine-year period from 1993 through 2001.

Plaintiff brought this employment discrimination action under two distinct statutory provisions, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-6 (§ 707 of Title VII), under which it brought pattern and practice claims, and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) (§ 706 of Title VII), under which it brought claims in its own name on behalf of individual female employees of Defendant.*fn1 In a Memorandum-Decision and Order dated April 20, 2005, this Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's pattern and practice claims.*fn2

Plaintiff has identified 511 individual employees (the "aggrieved persons"), whom it alleges Defendant subjected to discrimination in the following manner: (1) hostile work environment sexual harassment, (2) failure to remedy alleged instances of sexual harassment, (3) retaliation against employees who complained about sexual harassment, and (4) constructive discharge of employees by failing to remedy a hostile work environment. As a result of Defendant's actions, Plaintiff seeks (1) a permanent injunction enjoining Defendant from engaging in any employment practices that discriminate on the basis of sex, retaliation and/or constructive discharge; (2) an order requiring Defendant to institute and carry out policies, practices, and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for employees engaged in protected activity and eradicate the effects of Defendant's past and present unlawful employment practices; (3) back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for all individuals whom Defendant's unlawful employment practices have already affected; and (4) costs incurred in this action.

Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-6. See Dkt. Nos. 122, 133. Plaintiff opposes this motion. See Dkt. Nos. 128-132.


A. Standard of review

A court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Although the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant, see Ramseur v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 865 F.2d 460, 465 (2d Cir. 1989) (citations omitted); Eastway Constr. Corp. v. City of N.Y., 762 F.2d 243, 249 (2d Cir 1985) (citations omitted), a non-movant cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment by merely raising "metaphysical doubt" concerning the facts or by only offering conjecture or surmise, see Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. v. Consol. Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174, 178 (2d Cir. 1990) (quotation omitted); Travelers Ins. Co. v. Broadway W. St. Assocs., 164 F.RD. 154, 160 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (holding that granting summary judgment for the moving party is appropriate "where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, speculative, or not significantly probative" (citing [Anderson, 477 U.S.] at 249-50, 106 S. Ct. at 2510-11) (other citations omitted)). Rather, the non-movant must support its assertion that a fact is genuinely in dispute by citing to specific materials in the record that are in admissible form. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1), (2). B. Statutory framework -- Section 706 of Title VII*fn3 "Section 706 permits the EEOC to sue a private employer on behalf of a 'person or persons aggrieved' by the employer's unlawful employment practice." E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 611 F. Supp. 2d 918, 929 (N.D. Iowa 2009) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1)). "The EEOC may file a § 706 lawsuit against a private employer, after the filing of a charge of unlawful employment discrimination with the EEOC, if the EEOC finds 'reasonable cause' [to believe that] the employer has violated Title VII." Id. (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court explained in Gen. Tel. Co. of Nw., Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 446 U.S. 318 (1980), the seminal § 706 case, "the EEOC need look no further than § 706 for its authority to bring suit in its own name for the purpose, among others, of securing relief for a group of aggrieved individuals." Id. at 324. However, prior to filing a suit, the EEOC must make "a good-faith attempt to settle the matter through conciliation." E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., No. 07-CV-95-LRR, 2009 WL 2524402, *12 (N.D. Iowa Aug. 13, 2009) ("CRST Van Expedited III") (citation omitted). As the Supreme Court explained in Occidental Life Ins. Co. of CA v. E.E.O.C., 432 U.S. 355 (1977), Congress established an integrated, multistep enforcement procedure culminating in the EEOC's authority to bring a civil action in a federal court. That procedure begins when a charge is filed with the EEOC alleging that an employer has engaged in an unlawful employment practice. A charge must be filed within 180 [or 300] days after the occurrence of the allegedly unlawful practice, and the EEOC is directed to serve notice of the charge on the employer within 10 days of filing. . . .The EEOC is then required to investigate the charge and determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that it is true. This determination is to be made "as promptly as possible and, so far as practicable, not later than one hundred and twenty days from the filing of the charge." . . . If the EEOC finds that there is reasonable cause it "shall endeavor to eliminate any such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion." When "the Commission (is) unable to secure . . . a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission, the Commission may bring a civil action against any respondent not a government, governmental agency, or political subdivision named in the charge." . . .

Id. at 359-60 (internal footnotes omitted).

Although the EEOC may bring suit with or without the consent of the aggrieved individuals, it "stands in the shoes of those aggrieved persons in the sense that it must prove all of the elements of their sexual harassment claims to obtain individual relief for them." CRST Van Expedited, 611 F. Supp. 2d at 929. Similarly, if the EEOC prevails on behalf of the aggrieved individuals, "the full range of legal remedies available to individuals is generally available to the EEOC[.]" For example, "[t]he EEOC is entitled to equitable relief, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g), and may also usually pursue compensatory and punitive damages, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(a)(l)." Id.

"Although a § 706 lawsuit must begin with a formal charge of discrimination, Occidental Life, 432 U.S. at 359, a § 706 lawsuit 'is not confined to the specific allegations in the charge,' Delight Wholesale, 973 F.2d at 668." CRST Van Expedited III, 2009 WL 2524402, at * 13. Although § 706 "does not expressly contemplate that the EEOC might bring suit as to matters not contained in a charge of discrimination, it is a judicially created doctrine that '[a]ny violations that the EEOC ascertains in the course of a reasonable investigation of the charging party's complaint are actionable.'" Id. (quoting Gen. Tel., 446 U.S. at 331 (citing EEOC v. Gen. Elec. Co., 532 F.2d 359, 364 (4th Cir. 1976) and EEOC v. McLean Trucking Co., 525 F.2d 1007, 1010 (6th Cir. 1975))) (footnote omitted). "In other words, the EEOC's lawsuit may include 'discrimination like or related to the substance of the allegations in the charge and which reasonably can be expected to grow out of the investigation triggered by the charge.'" Id. (quoting Delight Wholesale, 973 F.2d at 668).

Nonetheless, despite the leeway that the courts have afforded the EEOC by adopting the "reasonable investigation rule," this leeway "is broad but not absolute." Id. "'The original charge is sufficient to support EEOC action, including a civil suit, for any discrimination . . . developed during a reasonable investigation of the charge, so long as the additional allegations of discrimination are included in the reasonable cause determination and subject to a conciliation proceeding.'" Id. (quoting [Delight Wholesale, 973 F.2d] at 668-69 (emphasis added)) (other citation omitted). Thus, "[a]s long as the EEOC investigates, issues a reasonable cause determination for and conciliates the additional allegations of discrimination, the reasonable investigation rule is quite expansive." Id.

However, "the EEOC may not use the reasonable investigation rule to circumvent Title VII's 'integrated, multistep enforcement procedure' of investigation, determination and conciliation as to the additional allegations of discrimination." Id. at *14 (citing Occidental Life, 432 U.S. at 355). "'[T]here must be investigation and conciliation of a claim before it is litigated.'" Id. (quoting EEOC v. KECO Indus., Inc., 748 F.2d 1097, 1102 (6th Cir. 1984)). Thus, although "the reasonable investigation rule allows the EEOC to expand its administrative proceedings beyond the mere allegations in a charge, the EEOC may only bring a § 706 lawsuit to remedy allegations of discrimination it investigates, finds reasonable cause to believe are true and attempts in good-faith to conciliate." Id. (citations omitted).

With regard to Title VII's conciliation requirement, "'[n]othing less than a "reasonable" effort to resolve with the employer the issues raised by the complainant will do.'" Id. at *15 (quoting EEOC v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 340 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2003)). "'This effort must, at a minimum, make clear to the employer the basis for the EEOC's charges against it.'" Id. (quotation omitted). "'Otherwise, it cannot be said that the [EEOC] has provided a meaningful conciliation opportunity.'" Id. (quotation omitted). "'[C]onciliation is at the hear of Title VII.' . . . A lawsuit is 'a last resort.' . . ." Id. (internal quotations omitted).

Finally, when the EEOC brings a suit in its own name under § 706 on behalf of a group of aggrieved persons, Title VII's statute of limitations, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) applies. See E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 615 F. Supp. 2d 867, 877-78 (N.D. Iowa 2009) ("CRST Van Expedited II") (recognizing that "whereas some district courts appear to indicate the EEOC may be subject to a statute of limitations . . . other district courts appear to grant the EEOC the power to resurrect stale claims . . . [but holding that] the better reasoned authority holds that Title VII generally does not grant the EEOC the power to resurrect otherwise stale claims of unlawful employment discrimination" (internal citations and footnote omitted)). As the court in CRST Van Expedited II explained, "[t]he plain language of § 2000e-5 contemplates that the 'charge shall be filed by or on behalf of the person aggrieved within three hundred days after the alleged ...

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