Federal Court Affirms Agency May File Class Complaint Without Complete Information on All Possible Bias Victims
CHICAGO - On its own motion, a federal district court reversed itself Friday and denied a defendant's motions to dismiss a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against United Parcel Service, Inc., the agency announced today. According to the EEOC, the ruling (EEOC, et al., v. United Parcel Service, Inc., No. 09-cv-05291 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 11, 2013)) is important because it confirms that the federal agency can pursue claims of employment discrimination on behalf of persons whose identities may not be known at the outset of the case.
In its suit, originally filed in 2009, the EEOC alleged that UPS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by allowing disabled employees only 12-month leaves of absence and failing to provide them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, instead firing them if they exceeded those parameters. UPS moved to dismiss the EEOC's complaint, arguing, in part, that the EEOC did not provide enough information about unidentified UPS employees for whom EEOC was seeking relief. The court initially agreed and dismissed the EEOC's complaint but allowed the EEOC to file an amended complaint.
The EEOC went on to file two more amended complaints, both of which the court dismissed at UPS's request, because, according to the court, the EEOC still had not alleged adequate factual information with respect to the unidentified class members. The EEOC did not identify by name more than two of its class members in any of its complaints.
The EEOC then filed a motion seeking permission to appeal the court's ruling to the federal appellate court. Rather than address the EEOC's request for an appeal, the court, on its own motion, reconsidered its earlier decisions granting UPS's motions to dismiss. The court withdrew its earlier rulings and granted the EEOC's motion to file its second amended complaint. The court explained that the most recent complaint indeed satisfies the legal requirements because "it . . . offers detailed factual allegations as to how the policy affected two employees . . . and alleges that the same policy was applied across the board to other employees."
The court further explained that "the unique role of the EEOC is such that courts generally have allowed complaints with 'class' allegations comparable to those asserted here to move forward," and that the law "does not require plaintiffs, including EEOC, to plead detailed factual allegations supporting the individual claims of every potential member of a class." The court also stated that it must "defer to EEOC's investigatory judgment."
"Judge Dow's decision probably marks the end of an already faltering trend in the defense of employment discrimination cases." said John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago. "Based on a couple of questionable decisions, some defense attorneys have been arguing that the EEOC cannot seek relief for victims of bias in class cases unless each of those victims has previously been identified during the EEOC administrative process and before a lawsuit was filed. Although those decisions have been repeatedly ignored by the courts, they continue to attract a small following and to crop up in criticism of EEOC. Thanks to Judge Dow's United Parcel Service decision, those days are about over."
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason added, "After years of having to litigate everything but the merits of the case, we are thrilled to finally have the opportunity to prove that UPS discriminated against its disabled employees."
According to its website, UPS, a multi-billion dollar corporation, is the world's largest package delivery company and a leading global provider of specialized transportation and logistics services.
In addition to Hendrickson and Smason, the EEOC trial attorneys working on the case are Aaron DeCamp, Deborah Hamilton, and Jeanne B. Szromba.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.