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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Dolgencorp LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 10, 2017

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLGENCORP, LLC d/b/a DOLLAR GENERAL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         This case concerns the allegedly discriminatory use of criminal background checks in hiring and firing determinations by Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC (“Dollar General”). After receiving charges of discrimination from two former Dollar General employees, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) investigated and determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that Dollar General had engaged in employment discrimination on the basis of race. Thereafter, the EEOC brought this lawsuit against Dollar General under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. Now before this Court is the EEOC's motion for partial summary judgment on Dollar General's seventh and eighth enumerated defenses: that the EEOC's claims are barred as beyond the scope of the charges of discrimination and the EEOC's investigation (7th enumerated defense), and that the EEOC failed to satisfy the statutory precondition for bringing suit when it failed to conciliate with Dollar General (8th enumerated defense). The EEOC contends that, on the undisputed facts, these two defenses fail as a matter of law. The Court agrees and grants the EEOC's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 29, 2004, Regina Fields-Herring filed with the EEOC a charge of discrimination against her employer Dollar General. (Pl.'s Stmt. of Undisp. Facts ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 197.) Fields-Herring's charge stated that she had been terminated for a felony conviction and she believed that she had been discriminated against because she is Black, in violation of Title VII. (Id.) On March 3, 2009, the EEOC received a similar charge of discrimination from another former Dollar General employee, Alesia Hightower, who alleged that Dollar General had discriminated against her on the basis of her race when it discharged her. (Id. ¶ 3.) Both charges of discrimination were served on Dollar General. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 4.)

         The EEOC investigated the charges and issued two Letters of Determination on September 6, 2011.[1] (Id. ¶ 5.) The Letters of Determination notified Dollar General that the EEOC had found “reasonable cause to believe that, through the application of its background check policy, [Dollar General] discriminated against a class of employees . . . because of their race, Black, in that they were not hired and/or considered for employment, in violation of Title VII” and “that, through the application of its background check policy, [Dollar General] discriminated against a class of employees . . . because of their race, Black, in that they were discharged, in violation of Title VII.” (EEOC Determination Letters, Dkt. No. 197-1, at 14, 16 of 19.) The Letters of Determination also invited Dollar General to participate in a conciliation process. (Pl.'s Stmt. of Undisp. Facts ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 197.)

         Between September 6, 2011 and July 26, 2012, the EEOC and Dollar General engaged in written and oral communications regarding the alleged discrimination. (Id. ¶ 7.) Those communications did not result in a conciliation agreement acceptable to the EEOC. (Id.) On July 26, 2012, the EEOC's District Director issued a notice to Dollar General that the EEOC was concluding conciliation efforts, as they had been unsuccessful in the EEOC's view. (Id. ¶ 8.)

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009). A “genuine issue” of material fact in the context of a summary judgment motion is not simply a “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must consider the record as a whole, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transp. Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000). “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         The EEOC filed this motion seeking summary judgment on two of Dollar General's defenses: (1) that the EEOC's claims are barred because they are beyond the scope of the charges of discrimination and the EEOC's investigation, and (2) that the EEOC failed to satisfy the statutory precondition for bringing suit when it failed to conciliate with Dollar General. The Court considers each defense in turn.

         I. Scope of the Charges of Discrimination and the EEOC's Investigation

         Dollar General's seventh enumerated defense relies upon two separate propositions: first, the EEOC's claims are barred because they go beyond the claims delineated in the charges of discrimination that generated the EEOC's lawsuit; and, second, the EEOC's claims are barred because the EEOC failed to investigate those claims adequately prior to bringing suit.

         When the EEOC files suit, it “is not confined to claims typified by those of the charging party.” EEOC v. Caterpillar, Inc., 409 F.3d 831, 833 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Any violations that the EEOC ascertains in the course of a reasonable investigation of the charging party's complaint are actionable. The charge incites the investigation, but if the investigation turns up additional violations the Commission can add them to its suit.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, Dollar General's focus on the charges of discrimination is misplaced here, as it is the EEOC that is bringing suit against Dollar General and not private parties.

         For similar reasons, the Seventh Circuit has held that, “[i]f courts may not limit a suit by the EEOC to claims made in the administrative charge, they likewise have no business limiting the suit to claims that the court finds to be supported by the evidence obtained in the Commission's investigation. The existence of probable cause to sue is generally . . . not judicially reviewable.” Id.; see also EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., 141 F.Supp.3d 912, 915 (N.D. Ill. 2015), as amended (Nov. 4, 2015) (applying Caterpillar and explaining that “under this Circuit's precedent, the Court may not inquire into the sufficiency of the EEOC's pre-suit investigation in order to ‘limit' the scope of the litigation”). Thus, the Court denies Dollar General's motion insofar as it seeks to dismiss the EEOC's claims because they go beyond the charges of discrimination or because they were not subject to an adequate pre-suit investigation.[2]

         II. The EEOC's Compliance with the Requirement of ...


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