431 F.2d 455 (5th Cir. 1970), 27730, Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc.

Docket Nº:27730.
Citation:431 F.2d 455
Party Name:Celia SANCHEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. STANDARD BRANDS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:July 01, 1970
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 455

431 F.2d 455 (5th Cir. 1970)

Celia SANCHEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

STANDARD BRANDS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 27730.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

July 1, 1970

Godbold, Circuit Judge, dissented.

Page 456

Frank P. Hernandez, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

Eldon L. Youngblood, Coke & Coke, Dallas, Tex., for defendant-appellee.

Philip Sklover, Atty., Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, D.C., amicus curiae.

Before RIVES, GOLDBERG and GODBOLD, Circuit Judges.

Page 457

GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge.

In this equal employment opportunity action we consider the linguistic tolerance to be accorded a charging party under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its attendant regulations. The court below dismissed the complaint on the ground that plaintiff had written the wrong words and checked the wrong box in filling out an administrative charge form supplied by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Because we conclude that the trial court's approach is not in keeping with the words of the statute, with the intent of Congress, or with the regulations adopted by the EEOC, we reverse and remand.

I.

This case arises under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq. Title VII generally forbids, in the context of employment, discrimination against any individual 'because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.' The Act's proscriptions are directed at employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations, each of which is forbidden to engage in certain defined 'unlawful employment practices.' See 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000e-- 2, 2000e-- 3.

To effectuate the goals embodied in Title VII, Congress created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-- 4. The Commission's procedures can be set in motion by the filing of a charge of discrimination. The procedures which are triggered by the filing of such a charge are detailed in 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-- 5, which provides in pertinent part as follows:

'(a) Whenever it is charged in writing under oath by a person claiming to be aggrieved * * * that an employer, employment agency, or labor organization has engaged in an unlawful employment practice, the Commission shall furnish such employer, employment agency, or labor organization (hereinafter referred to as the 'respondent') with a copy of such charge and shall make an investigation of such charge, provided that such charge shall not be made public by the Commission. If the Commission shall determine, after such investigation, that there is reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true, the Commission shall endeavor to eliminate any such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion.

'(e) If * * * the Commission (is) unable to obtain voluntary compliance with this subchapter, the Commission shall so notify the person aggrieved and a civil action may, within thirty days thereafter, be brought against the respondent named in the charge * * * by the person claiming to be aggrieved * * *.'

In addition to the requirements that a charge of discrimination filed by an aggrieved party be 'in writing' and 'under oath,' 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-- 5(a), the statute commands that such a charge 'shall be filed within ninety days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.' 42 U.S.C.A.§ 2000e-- 5(d). Beyond these basics the Act is silent with respect to the details of filing a charge of discrimination. The Commission, however, has issued a series of regulations concerning the filing of charges. 29 C.F.R.§ 1601.5 et seq. The regulation with which we are principally concerned in the present case is 29 C.F.R. § 1601.11, which provides as follows:

'(a) Each charge should contain the following:

(1) The full name and address of the person making the charge.

(2) The full name and address of the person against whom the charge is made (hereinafter referred to as the respondent).

(3) A clear and concise statement of the facts, including pertinent dates, constituting the alleged unlawful employment practice.

(4) If known, the approximate number of employees of the respondent

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employer or the approximate number of members of the respondent labor organization, as the case may be.

(5) A statement disclosing whether proceedings involving the alleged unlawful employment practice have been commenced before a State or local authority charged with the enforcement of fair employment practice laws, and, if so, the date of such commencement and the name of the authority.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a) of this section, a charge is deemed filed when the Commission receives from the person aggrieved a written statement sufficiently precise to identify the parties and to describe generally the action or practices complained of. A charge may be amended to cure technical defects or omissions, including failure to swear to the charge, or to clarify and amplify allegations made therein, and such amendments relate back to the original filing date. However, an amendment alleging additional acts constituting unlawful employment practices not directly related to or growing out of the subject matter of the original charge will be permitted only where at the date of the amendment the allegation could have been timely filed as a separate charge.'

Another Commission regulation provides that a charge of discrimination 'shall be in writing and signed, and shall be sworn to before a notary public, designated representative of the Commission, or other person duly authorized by law to administer oaths and take acknowledgments.' 29 C.F.R. § 1601.8. The same regulation announces that 'charge forms are available to all persons from all offices of the Commission.'

The Commission's charge form is a relatively simple one-page form, obviously designed to be utilized by even the most unsophisticated and unlettered layman. Three specific portions of the form are relevant for purposes of this case. One portion calls for an explanation of the factual basis of the charge of discrimination; the complainant is asked to 'explain what unfair thing was done to you.' Another part of the form calls for the complainant to specify whether the discrimination alleged was 'because of' (a) 'race or color,' (b) 'religious creed,' (c) 'national origin' or (d) 'sex'; a row of boxes is provided-- one for each category of discrimination-- and the complainant is asked to 'please check one.' Still another portion of the form asks the complainant to state 'the most recent date on which this discrimination took place.'

The history of the present litigation began when Celia Sanchez, on January 3, 1967, filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC by executing an EEOC charge form. She named her former employer, Standard Brands, Inc., as the party which had discriminated against her. In the space provided to explain what 'unfair thing' had been done to her, she wrote the following:

'My complaint was that my boss lady hit me at my rear end and about a month before that I hurt my thumb and was out of work for seven days and the Company didn't pay me. I hurt my thumb at work.'

In the row of boxes representing the various categories of discrimination, she checked the box labeled 'sex.' In the space provided to state 'the most recent date on which this discrimination took place,' she wrote 'November 18, 66.' Thus, this charge of discrimination, filed in January of 1967, clearly was filed within the ninety-day period prescribed by 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-- 5(d).

However, on March 18, 1967-- after the expiration of the ninety-day period--Celia Sanchez executed an amended charge of discrimination, again utilizing the charge form supplied by the Commission. Once again she fixed 'the most recent date on which this discrimination took place' as November 18, 1966. In other relevant respects, however, this charge was not identical with the original charge. This time, in the

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space provided to explain what 'unfair thing' had been done to her, she wrote the following:

'AMENDED

'I was discriminated against by Standard Brands, Inc. because of my national origin and sex. My supervisor became very abusive toward me and constantly harrassed (sic) me on my job. She would rush me and one day she caused me to hurt my thumb. I lost 7 days of work and the company would not pay me for my lost time. On another occasion my Supervisor struck me on my buttocks with her hand and accused me of doing my work wrong, rather than argue with her I told her husband (the plant manager) I was going home. When I returned the next day my supervisor told me she did not need me any more and fired me. My supervisor seemed most (sic) abrupt and vengeful against Negro and Mexican American women than with Anglo women.'

In the row of boxes representing the various categories of discrimination, she checked two boxes-- both 'sex' and 'national origin.'

The Commission investigation triggered by the Sanchez charge apparently led the Commission to conclude that reasonable cause did not exist to believe that Standard Brands had been guilty of discrimination because of sex, but that reasonable cause did exist to believe that Standard Brands had been guilty of discrimination because of national origin. The Commission was unable, however, to obtain voluntary compliance with the Act. Consequently, Celia Sanchez was notified of her statutory right to bring a civil action to compel compliance, and on August 12, 1967, she filed her complaint in the court below.

In her complaint plaintiff sought relief for herself and for...

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