District Court Erred in Dismissing ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) Class Action because Plaintiff Satisfied ADEA Prerequisites for Filing Class Action Complaint and because Plaintiff was not Required to File Separate Charges for each Allegedly Discriminatory Failure to Promote Plaintiff District of Columbia Circuit Court Holds
Plaintiff, who worked in Washington, D.C., filed an EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) charge in New York alleging PricewaterhouseCoopers discriminated against him on the basis of age in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) “by maintaining a discriminatory partnership policy under which the company refuses to promote older qualified employees.” Schuler v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, ___ F.3d ___, 2008 WL 398968, *1 (D.C. Cir. February 12, 2008). The EEOC dismissed the charge and informed plaintiff of his right to sue. Plaintiff responded by filing a class action complaint in the district court for the District of Columbia; the class action alleged violations of the ADEA and of D.C.’s Human Rights Act. Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint: The district court dismissed the class action on the ground that plaintiff “failed to satisfy the ADEA’s procedural requirements because he failed to file (1) his EEOC charge with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and (2) a new EEOC charge following the company’s allegedly unlawful July 2005 promotion denial.” Id. Plaintiff appealed and the Circuit Court reversed, reinstating his class action.
The class action alleged that PricewaterhouseCoopers requires mandatory retirement at age 60, and that as a result it “rarely promotes employees over the age of forty-five to partner.” Schuler, at *2. This damages qualified employees because “Partners enjoy higher salaries, more generous retirement benefits, and greater responsibilities than other professional employees.” Id. The class action complaint further alleges that PricewaterhouseCoopers “refuses to promote him ‘and other qualified older professional employees’ to partner on the basis of age in violation of the ADEA” and that “he is the longest serving managing director in the firm, having been promoted to that position in 1994, and that his education, training, and experience qualify him for partnership.” Id. (Plaintiff previously sued PwC in 2002 over the same allegedly discriminatory partnership policy. Id., at *2.) The Circuit Court also noted that plaintiff’s EEOC charge had included the instruction: “I want this Class Action Charge filed with both the EEOC and the State and local Agency, if any.” Id., at *3.
In granting the defense motion to dismiss the class action complaint, the district court explained that under National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002), “each incident of discrimination and each retaliatory adverse employment decision constitutes a separate actionable unlawful employment practice for which an administrative charge must be filed,” and held that plaintiff’s two allegations for failure to promote were “discrete incidents” and that his failure to file a separate EEOC charge for the July 2004 decision not to promote him to partner and the July 2005 decision not to promote him was a mistake. Schuler, at *3.
The District of Columbia Circuit reversed. The Court first explained that “Schuler did raise two claims, but not the ones the district court thought.” The first claim was the ADEA violation, and the second claim was the DCHRA violation. Schuler, at *4. The fact he challenged both the 2004 and 2005 denial of promotion “is neither here nor there,” id. As the Court explained at page *13, “Schuler brought a single federal claim – a class-action pattern or practice ADEA claim arising out of PwC’s mandatory retirement and promotion policy – not two discrete nonpromotion charges.” In short, the Circuit Court held that “because plaintiff seeks damages flowing from the July 2004 ADEA violation alleged in his original EEOC charge through the present, his failure to file a new charge after the July 2005 nonpromotion decision is of no consequence.” Id., at *1.
The Circuit Court concluded also that by filing his February 2005 charge in New York, he satisfied the ADEA’s administrative prerequisite for filing suit in federal court because of the “worksharing agreement” between the EEOC and the New York and District of Columbia field offices. Id., at *5-*10. The District of Columbia Circuit held further that EEOC’s referral of plaintiff’s February 2005 charge to the New York Division of Human Rights office also satisfied the ADEA’s state filing requirement, see id., at *10-*12.