Hubbard v. Rubbermaid, Inc.

Decision Date11 August 1977
Docket NumberCiv. No. B-76-261.
Citation436 F. Supp. 1184
PartiesDiana Lollar HUBBARD, Individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated v. RUBBERMAID, INC. and Rubbermaid, Incorporated.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland


Kenneth L. Johnson, Baltimore, Md. and Joseph A. Yablonski, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff.

Frank S. Astroth, Towson, Md., and Edward Katze, Atlanta, Ga., for defendant.


BLAIR, District Judge.

This is an employment discrimination suit brought against Rubbermaid, Inc. and Rubbermaid, Incorporated Rubbermaid pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 and the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19. Plaintiff is a former Rubbermaid market representative who alleges that Rubbermaid employees were assigned to and employed as market or sales representatives solely on the basis of their sex. Plaintiff seeks to maintain, in her own behalf and as a class action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), a broad based attack on allegedly discriminatory practices by Rubbermaid. Rubbermaid has moved to dismiss the complaint.1

Rubbermaid contends that the Title VII claim must be dismissed because plaintiff failed to file her charges of discrimination with the EEOC or this action within the periods required by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. On September 9, 1974, plaintiff filed a discrimination charge with the Montgomery County, Maryland Commission on Human Relations. On January 2, 1975, the EEOC sent Rubbermaid a notice that plaintiff had filed a discrimination charge which it received on January 13, 1975. On July 21, 1975, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. On November 26, 1975, the EEOC issued its letter of determination that Rubbermaid had not violated Title VII with "regard to wages, benefits and different terms and conditions of employment." Plaintiff received a right to sue letter December 4, 1975 and instituted this action February 23, 1976. Plaintiff complied with the filing requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 and the motion to dismiss on this ground will be denied.

Plaintiff initiated Title VII's administrative processes by filing a complaint of discrimination with the Montgomery County Commission on Human Relations charging Rubbermaid with discrimination against women.2 The EEOC notified Rubbermaid that plaintiff's charges related to wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment. Consistent with the EEOC notice, plaintiff's EEOC charge of discrimination mentions only wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.3 After an investigation, the EEOC issued its letter of determination which found that there was no reasonable cause to sustain a finding that Rubbermaid discriminated against plaintiff over her wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.4 In this suit, plaintiff seeks to expand the scope of her challenge to Rubbermaid's employment practices beyond wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment to include Rubbermaid's recruitment, job classification, hiring, assignment, promotion, transfer, layoff, recall, discipline, discharge, benefits, apprenticeship training programs, and maternity benefits policies as well. Rubbermaid has moved to dismiss all of the allegations which were not raised in plaintiff's original charge or the EEOC investigation, arguing that plaintiff is impermissibly attempting to broaden a narrow charge of discrimination.

It is well settled that the filing of a discrimination charge with either a federal, state, or local agency is the essential first step in the administration of Title VII. See, e. g., Stebbins v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 382 F.2d 267 (4th Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 910, 88 S.Ct. 836, 19 L.Ed.2d 880 (1968). The charge is the basis for an investigation, which upon a finding of reasonable cause, prompts the issuance of a letter which in turn defines the areas of conciliation between the agency and the employer. See Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., 431 F.2d 455, 466 (5th Cir. 1970); EEOC v. General Electric Co., 532 F.2d 359, 366 (4th Cir. 1976). Of course, a private plaintiff may maintain an action even where, as here, the EEOC finds no reasonable cause to believe the allegations of discrimination. Gamble v. Birmingham Southern R.R. Co., 514 F.2d 678, 688 (5th Cir. 1975); Danner v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 447 F.2d 159, 161 n. 2 (5th Cir. 1971). Among the legion of opinions which discuss the scope of a Title VII suit, Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., supra, is recognized as the leading case in this area of Title VII litigation. There the Fifth Circuit stated:

As a general proposition, it is well established that "the scope of an EEOC complaint should not be strictly interpreted." . . . Such a generalization, however, does not answer the more precise question of what standard is to be utilized in measuring the proper scope of a complaint. This circuit has never before considered this precise question. At least one district court in this circuit has addressed itself to the question, however, and in our judgment it responded to the question by giving the correct answer. In King v. Georgia Power Co., D.C., 295 F.Supp. 943, Judge Smith held that the allegations in a judicial complaint filed pursuant to Title VII "may encompass any kind of discrimination like or related to allegations contained in the charge and growing out of such allegation during the pendency of the case before the Commission." . . . In other words, the "scope" of the judicial complaint is limited to the "scope" of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.
The logic of this rule is inherent in the statutory scheme of Title VII. A charge of discrimination is not filed as a preliminary to a lawsuit. On the contrary, the purpose of a charge of discrimination is to trigger the investigatory and conciliatory procedures of the EEOC. Once a charge has been filed, the Commission carried out its investigatory function and attempts to obtain voluntary compliance with the law. Only if the EEOC fails to achieve voluntary compliance will the matter ever become the subject of court action. Thus it is obvious that the civil action is much more intimately related to the EEOC investigation than to the words of the charge which originally triggered the investigation. Within this statutory scheme it is only logical to limit the permissible scope of the civil action to the scope of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.

431 F.2d at 465-66 (emphasis original, citations and footnotes omitted). In cases where the plaintiff challenges areas of discrimination not alleged in the original complaint, some courts have used a "like or related test,"5 others have looked to the scope of a reasonable EEOC investigation based on the charge,6 and some decisions have suggested that there is no meaningful difference between the two tests.7 When faced with the question of the proper scope of a Title VII complaint, a court must balance two competing statutory policies. The first is that Title VII is a broad remedial statute designed to protect those who are the least able to protect themselves. An individual who files a discrimination charge seldom has the assistance of counsel and is not expected to articulate the entire range of allegedly discriminatory practices of which he feels he is a victim. Courts, therefore, have given a liberal interpretation to allegations in discrimination charges in order to effectuate the underlying purposes of Title VII. Scott v. University of Delaware, 385 F.Supp. 937, 942 (D.Del.1974); Willis v. Chicago Extruded Metals Co., 375 F.Supp. 362, 365-66 (N.D.Ill.1974); Arey v. Providence Hospital, 55 F.R.D. 62, 66-67 (D.D.C.1972). The second policy is that Title VII plaintiffs should not have an unrestrained ability to litigate allegations of discrimination which are neither contained in the EEOC charge nor investigated by the EEOC, thereby frustrating the statutory scheme of informal persuasion and voluntary compliance. Without limitations, the importance of the EEOC conciliatory8 procedures would be diminished and employers would be denied the opportunity to resolve disputes by EEOC settlement rather than by litigation. Scott v. University of Delaware, 385 F.Supp. at 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 Linen Supply Co., 428 F.Supp. 860, 862-63 (S.D.Ohio 1977). Defendant argues that the second policy discussed above requires the court to limit the scope of the suit to plaintiff's allegations concerning wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment. Plaintiff, on the other hand, argues that the complaint need not track the language of the EEOC charge exactly and that all of the allegations in the complaint reasonably could have been within the scope of an EEOC investigation and that they are, therefore, properly before the court.

This court's task is to strike a balance between the competing and somewhat countervailing policies discussed above. That task is complicated by the fact that we deal here with a developing body of law which in the absence of pervasive appellate precedent has often led the lower courts to reach varied and often irreconcilable conclusions. The court fully agrees with the Sanchez holding that an unsophisticated Title VII litigant should not be limited to the precise wording found in his original charge of discrimination and that he may litigate all claims of discrimination uncovered in a reasonable EEOC investigation of that charge. The court, however, disagrees with plaintiff's broad assertion that a private p...

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