270 F.3d 1314 (11th Cir. 2001), 00-13915, Wilkerson v Grinnell Corp.

Docket Nº:00-13915
Citation:270 F.3d 1314
Party Name:CAROL WILKERSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. GRINNELL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:October 22, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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270 F.3d 1314 (11th Cir. 2001)

CAROL WILKERSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

GRINNELL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 00-13915

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

October 22, 2001

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, D. C. Docket No. 99-00133-CV-BAE-6

Before BIRCH, COX and ALARCON[*], Circuit Judges.

COX, Circuit Judge:

Carol Wilkerson sued Grinnell Corporation, asserting, inter alia, claims under Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment on her Title VII claims because she failed to file a timely charge of discrimination and harassment with the EEOC. Since we conclude that Wilkerson filed a timely EEOC charge, we vacate the

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district court's grant of summary judgment on the Title VII claims and remand the case.

I. BACKGROUND

The essential facts relevant to this appeal are undisputed. Wilkerson is a black female who began working for Grinnell in July 1995. (R.-17 at 1.) On August 19, 1997, Grinnell terminated her employment. Wilkerson immediately contacted the EEOC and explained her situation. (R.-18 at 132-33.) The EEOC sent her an "Employment Discrimination Complaint Questionnaire," and she answered and returned it. (R.-18 at 133.) The EEOC received this intake questionnaire on August 23, 1997. (R.-18-Ex.10 at 1.)

In her responses to the intake questions, Wilkerson alleged race and sex discrimination by Grinnell. (R.-18-Ex. 10 at 1-2.) She included her full name, address, and telephone number, as well as the name and address of Grinnell. (R.-18-Ex. 10 at 1). She listed the names of two employees involved in the alleged discrimination. (R.-18-Ex. 10 at 1.) Wilkerson attached to the questionnaire a seven-page narrative detailing specific instances of discrimination and harassment and naming the particular individuals involved in each instance. (R.-18-Ex. 10 at 5-12.) She also named nine individuals who had direct knowledge of these alleged acts. (R.-18-Ex. 10 at 4 & 13.) On the third page of the form, Wilkerson signed her name under the following italicized statement: "I swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the provided information is truthful and correct to the best of my knowledge." (R.-18-Ex. 10 at 4.)

By September, the EEOC had not contacted Wilkerson, so she called the EEOC. (R.-18 at 139.) Wilkerson's EEOC contact said that there were a lot of people ahead of Wilkerson and that the EEOC takes people as they come. (R.-18 at 139.) Wilkerson confirmed that her EEOC contact knew the date of her discharge, and she awaited her turn. (R.-18 at 139.)

In June 1998, Wilkerson called the EEOC again and spoke with Marvin Frazier. (R.-18 at 139.) Frazier told her that the EEOC had mailed further questions to her in October 1997. (R.-18 at 139.) Wilkerson responded that she had not received the questions. (R.-18 at 139.) At the end of the conversation, Frazier told Wilkerson that the EEOC would proceed on the basis of her questionnaire. (R.-18 at 139.) The EEOC then issued a Notice of Charge of Discrimination to Grinnell on June 24, 1998. (R.-18-Ex. 18.) This Notice informed Denny Young, the Human Resource Manager at Grinnell, of Wilkerson's allegations that "she was discharged from her employment, disciplined and intimidated in her employment because of her race, Black and sex, female." (R.-18-Ex.18.)

After further review of Wilkerson's file, the EEOC dismissed Wilkerson's charge as untimely and issued a notice of right to sue in April 1999. (R.-18-Ex. 19.) Wilkerson, on the advice of an attorney, visited the EEOC in person. (R.-18 at 140.) She spoke with Lynn Jordan, who again reviewed Wilkerson's file and determined that her intake questionnaire constituted a timely charge. (R.-18 at 145.) On July 2, 1999, Jordan revoked the prior notice of right to sue, which had found the charge untimely. (R.-18-Ex. 20.) Wilkerson then requested a right to sue letter (R.-18 at 145-46), and the letter was issued on July 8, 1999. (R.-18-Ex. 21.) Wilkerson filed her complaint, pro se, on August 11. (R.-1.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, which concluded that Grinnell was due

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summary judgment because Wilkerson's intake questionnaire was unverified and, accordingly, could not constitute a charge under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b). (R.-24 at 6.)

III. ISSUES ON APPEAL

Wilkerson contends that the district court committed reversible error by determining that her intake questionnaire was unverified. Grinnell does not dispute that Wilkerson's charge was in fact verified. Instead, Grinnell urges us to affirm the district court on an alternative ground, namely that Wilkerson's intake questionnaire, even if verified, did not constitute a timely charge under Title VII. We will consider, then, whether Wilkerson's intake questionnaire constituted a timely charge in the circumstances of this case.

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same familiar standards as the district court. See Witter v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 138 F.3d 1366, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998).

V. DISCUSSION

Before a potential plaintiff may sue for discrimination under Title VII, she must first exhaust her administrative remedies. See Crawford v. Babbitt, 186 F.3d 1322, 1326 (11th Cir. 1999). The first step down this path is filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) (1994); Alexander v. Fulton County, 207 F.3d 1303, 1332 (11th Cir. 2000). For a charge to be timely in a non-deferral state such as Georgia, it must be filed within 180 days of the last discriminatory act. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) (1994); Howlett v. Holiday Inn, Inc., 49 F.3d 189, 197 (6th Cir. 1995).

Besides being timely, charges of discrimination "shall be in writing under oath or affirmation and shall contain such information and be in such form as the [EEOC] requires." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) (1994); Pijnenburg v. West Ga. Health Sys., Inc., 255 F.3d 1304, 1307 (11th Cir. 2001); Vason v. City of Montgomery, 240 F.3d 905, 907 (11th Cir. 2001). EEOC regulations state that a...

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