Belcher v. Bassett Furniture Industries, Inc., Civ. A. No. 73-C-6-R-D.

Decision Date24 May 1974
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 73-C-6-R-D.
Citation376 F. Supp. 593
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia

Covington & Burling, Washington, D. C., Robert Bruce Wallace, Alexandria, Va., Ruth L. Harvey, Danville, Va., for plaintiffs.

L. Dale McGhee, Philpott & McGhee, Bassett, Va., J. W. Alexander Jr., Blakeney, Alexander & Machen, Charlotte, N. C., for defendants.


TURK, Chief Judge.

This is an employment discrimination suit brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., (hereinafter Title VII)1 as a class action by twenty-two named plaintiffs who are present or former employees of defendant, Bassett Furniture Industries, Inc.2 Plaintiffs' complaint is in two parts as follows: In the first count of the complaint, the twenty-two named plaintiffs purport to represent all past, present or future black employees and allege that numerous policies and practices utilized by defendant are racially discriminatory; in the second count of the complaint the thirteen named female employees purport to represent all past, present and future female employees of the defendant and allege numerous sexually discriminatory policies and practices by defendant against the class. The case is now before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss the cause of action based on allegations of sexual discrimination for failure to satisfy the jurisdictional prerequisites of Title VII.

Title VII defines as "unlawful employment practices" discrimination by employers in the areas of hiring, discharge, pay and terms and conditions of employment against individuals on account of their sex, race, religion, color or national origin, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The statute created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-4, and established a fairly detailed process for the enforcement of the substantive prohibitions of Title VII. It is this administrative process as applied to the facts of this case which is the focus of this opinion.

The first step on the road to judicial review in a Title VII case is the filing of a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC is then required within ten days to serve notice of the charge on the alleged violator (respondent) and undertake an investigation of the charge. If the EEOC determines that there is not reasonable cause to believe the truth of the charge, the charge is dismissed and the person claiming to be aggrieved and the respondent must be promptly notified. If, on the other hand, the EEOC determines that there is reasonable cause to believe the truth of the charge, it must "endeavor to eliminate any such unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b).

If the EEOC is unable to secure a conciliation agreement acceptable to it within thirty days after the charge is filed, it may bring a civil action against respondent. If the charge is dismissed by the EEOC or if within 180 days the EEOC has not filed a civil action or entered into a conciliation agreement, the person claiming to be aggrieved may bring a civil action within 90 days after receipt of notice by the EEOC. § 2000e-5(f) (1).

Plaintiffs allege in their complaint, and the defendant does not dispute, that each of the twenty-two named plaintiffs has filed charges of employment discrimination against defendant with the EEOC; that each of the named plaintiffs received notification from the EEOC of its inability to achieve voluntary compliance; and that such notification was received by each plaintiff within 90 days of the filing of this suit. But in oral argument before the court, counsel for both sides represented that all of the named plaintiffs specifically alleged racial discrimination in their charges filed with the EEOC; in none of the plaintiffs' cases did the EEOC find facts or reach conclusions with respect to sexual discrimination; and the conciliation efforts undertaken by the EEOC did not encompass the issue of sexual discrimination. Because of this defendant contends that there is a jurisdictional bar to the class action based on alleged sexual discrimination.

On the other hand, plaintiffs have submitted a copy of a charge filed by Shelia Setliff (not one of the named plaintiffs in this suit) in July, 1969, alleging that she had been the victim of sexual discrimination while employed by the Bassett Chair Company. Also submitted is a copy of the EEOC decision dated June 30, 1971, with respect to Ms. Setliff's charge in which the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that the Bassett Chair Company had discriminated against females as a class and thus violated Title VII by maintaining sex segregated job classifications and by paying females lower wages than males for substantially identical work. Plaintiffs seem to contend that the EEOC findings with respect to Ms. Setliff answer defendant's jurisdictional argument. But plaintiffs also appear to argue, largely on the basis of Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., 431 F.2d 455 (5th Cir. 1970), that regardless of the Setliff charge the female plaintiffs should be allowed to maintain this suit for alleged sexual discrimination.

In Sanchez, the plaintiff had initially alleged sexual discrimination in her charge to the EEOC but after the then applicable ninety-day period for filing a charge had passed,3 she amended her charge to allege discrimination on account of her national origin and stated that her supervisor had seemed more abrupt and vengeful toward Mexican-American and Negro women than Anglo women. The EEOC investigation did not support the allegation of sex discrimination but did find reasonable cause to believe the truth of the allegations of national origin discrimination. Following an unsuccessful attempt at conciliation by the EEOC plaintiff brought suit on behalf of herself and the class of Mexican-American and Negro persons employed or who might be employed by defendant.

The court first rejected the argument that plaintiff's judicial complaint was limited solely to allegations of sex discrimination by virtue of the fact that only sex discrimination had been alleged within the requisite time for filing a charge. The court held that the crucial element of a charge was the factual allegations and not the legal conclusion attached to such allegations by possibly unsophisticated and uneducated working people. The court further held that the amendment to plaintiff's charge related back to the date of the original charge and thus could provide a basis for the suit. This court finds itself in complete agreement with conclusion in Sanchez that the remedial purposes of Title VII would not be served by requiring the charging party to accurately divine an employers motivation in treating him unfairly and that the important element is the factual allegation in a charge. See Graniteville Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 438 F.2d 32, 37-38 (4th Cir. 1971). Thus, although a charge to the EEOC is a jurisdictional prerequisite, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1), the fact that none of the named plaintiffs to this suit initially alleged sexual discrimination does not necessarily limit the scope of the later suit. See Tipler v. DuPont, 443 F.2d 125 (6th Cir. 1971). But at the same time, the fact that some charge of discrimination was filed with the EEOC does not allow a later suit on any ground which may later occur to a party—the question is that of determining the relationship between the charge and the later suit.

This question was also raised by the defendant in Sanchez who argued that the allegations in the judicial complaint were beyond the scope of the allegations in either the original or amended charge to the EEOC. The court concluded that the correct standard to be applied to the judicial complaint in relation to the allegations presented to the EEOC was that "the `scope' of the judicial complaint is limited to the `scope' of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of a charge of discrimination." 431 F.2d at 466. A mechanical application of the above standard would seemingly support plaintiffs' sex discrimination allegations since the scope of the EEOC investigation triggered by the allegations of racial discrimination filed by the thirteen female plaintiffs would...

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  • Hubbard v. Rubbermaid, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • August 11, 1977 941; Briggs v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Inc., 414 F.Supp. 371, 376-77 (E.D.Va.1976); Belcher v. Bassett Furniture Industries, Inc., 376 F.Supp. 593, 596-97 (E.D.Va.1974). The parties have diametrically opposed positions on the proper scope of this lawsuit. Cf. Woodrum v. Abbott ......
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    ...v. Seaboard Air Line Railroad Co., 405 F.2d 645, 652 (4th Cir.1968); Hubbard, 436 F.Supp. at 1189; Belcher v. Bassett Furniture Industries, Inc., 376 F.Supp. 593, 597 (W.D.Va.1974). 3 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of ......
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