Monday, October 15, 2007

EEOC filing not required in some disability discrimination cases

Employment lawyers know that plaintiffs have to file a timely administrative charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This includes charges of racial or gender discrimination. It also applies to claims under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace against disabled people. But what about discrimination in the area of public accommodations? Those claims are covered by Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which does not require the plaintiff to bring an administrative claim with the EEOC. This distinction seems simple enough, but the Court of Appeals issued a ruling on October 15 reminding us that "public accommodation" claims are distinct from employment claims.

The case is McInerney v. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The plaintiff alleged that RPI did not reasonably accommodate his disability when he sought a doctorate as his advisor asked "ill posed and unreasonable questions" and another RPI administrator told the plaintiff to "stop using his disability as an excuse." While he filed his lawsuit in court (Northern District of New York), the plaintiff did not first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The district court dismissed the case for that reason. On appeal, the Second Circuit (McLaughlin, Raggi and Rakoff) said that since this is not an employment discrimination case but instead an action alleging discrimination in the public accommodation of a university, no EEOC complaint was necessary.

The Court of Appeals reasoned:

There is good reason to conclude that Congress intentionally omitted the exhaustion requirement for public-accommodations claims, as it would make little sense to require a plaintiff challenging discrimination in public accommodations to file a charge with the EEOC, an agency with responsibility for and expertise in matters of employment discrimination. Accordingly, we hold that there is no administrative-exhaustion requirement for ADA Title III claims or Title V claims predicated on asserting one’s rights under Title III.

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