In order to sue in federal court for employment discrimination under Title VII, an employee must first file a “charge” with the EEOC. That much is crystal clear. But what, in fact, constitutes a “charge,” since Title VII does not define that term with any precision?   What is minimally required for a filing to be deemed a “charge?”

In an opinion issued on June 28th, Williams v. CSX Transportation Co., a federal appeals court provided a nice review of when a filing is deemed a “charge” under Title VII, and went through the elements set out by the EEOC and the Supreme Court.  In that case, the employee’s filing was initially dismissed because it purportedly contained insufficient allegations of a hostile work environment. The Court discussed the elements to be considered as to when a filing can be considered a “charge”:  

  1. Title VII requires only that it must be in writing under oath or affirmation, and it must contain such information and be in such form as the EEOC requires. 
  2. The EEOC requires that a charge should contain the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the person making the charge and the charged entity; a statement of facts describing the alleged discriminatory act; the number of employees of the charged employer; and a statement indicating whether the charging party has initiated state proceedings. 
  3. Finally, the Supreme Court added a further element – that “taken as a whole” an “objective observer” would believe that the filing indicated that the charging party was actually requesting some action by the EEOC,  as opposed to, for example, merely being a request for information.  Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki.

As to plaintiff Williams’ filing, the Court found that it did, in fact, contain information “sufficiently precise to identify the parties, and to describe generally the action or practices complained of,” and that “taken as a whole” it would suggest to an “objective observer” that Williams requested that the EEOC “activate its machinery and remedial processes.”