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Is a Texas worker or employee’s sexual harassment or discrimination complaint limited by the exact language in the EEOC charge under Texas law?

Often Texas employers will argue that an individual claiming sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation under Texas law is limited by the exact wording in the EEOC charge. This limitation is incorrect and against the great weight of Texas law.

The scope of a Title VII case will not be limited to the four corners of the exact charge filed with the EEOC. Young v. City of Houston, 906 F.2d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 1990). A Title VII cause of action may be based, not only upon the specific complaints made by the employee's initial EEOC charge, but also upon any kind of discrimination like or related to the charge’s allegations, limited only by the scope of the EEOC investigation that could reasonably be expected to grow out of the initial charges of discrimination. Fine v. GAF Chemical Corp., 995 F.2d 576, 578 (5th Cir. 1993).

The 5th Circuit has stated: “We engage in fact-intensive analysis of the statement given by the plaintiff in the administrative charge, and look slightly beyond its four corners, to its substance rather than its label . . . . To be clear, we do not require that a Title VII plaintiff check a certain box or recite a specific incantation to exhaust his or her administrative remedies before the proper agency.” Pacheco v. Mineta, 448 F.3d 783, 789 (5th Cir. 2006). A Court must construe a claimant's charge of discrimination filed with the TWC with “utmost liberality”; however, the charge must contain an adequate factual basis so that it puts the employer on notice of the existence and nature of the charges. Santi v. Univ. of Tex. Health Sci. Ctr. At Houston, 312 S.W.3d 800 804 (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.] 2009, no pet.); Bartosh v. Sam Houston Univ., 259 S.W.3d 317, 321 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2008, pet. denied) Thus, “the crucial element of a charge of discrimination is the factual statement contained therein.” Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co., L.L.C., 332 F.3d 874, 879 (5th Cir. 2003), (quoting Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., 431 F.2d 455, 462 (5th Cir. 1970)). See also, Pacheco v. Mineta, 448 F.3d 783, 792 (5th Cir. 2006) (“we do not require that a Title-VII plaintiff check a certain box or recite a specific incantation to exhaust his or her administrative remedies”); Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., 431 F.2d 455, 462 (5th Cir. 1970) (“In the context of a statute like Title VII it is inconceivable that a charging party's rights should be cut off merely because he fails to articulate correctly the legal conclusion emanating from his factual allegations.”). Reedy v. CITGO Petroleum Corp., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19138 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 28, 2011) (“Thus, the Court finds that a hostile work environment claim could reasonably have been expected to grow out of his EEOC charge, so Plaintiff adequately exhausted his administrative remedies on that issue.”) Davis v. City of Dallas, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5902, *17 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 25, 2010) (“In reviewing these charges, the Court finds, under the facts at hand, that it is reasonable to expect a harassment and hostile work environment claim to grow from Davis' charge alleging retaliatory behavior.”

The Court may also consider “supporting documentation” beyond the “four corners” of the Charge, including the Intake Questionnaire and attached statements, when determining whether administrative remedies have been exhausted. Clark v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 18 F.3d 1278, 1280 (5th Cir. 1994); see Federal Exp. Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389 (2008) (holding that in some circumstances "a wide range of documents might be classified as charges," including Intake Questionnaires). Courts have considered information outside the Charge when: "(1) the facts set out in the document are a reasonable consequence of a claim set forth in the EEOC charge, and (2) the employer had actual knowledge of the contents of the document during the course of the EEOC investigation." Kojin v. Barton Protective Services, 339 F.Supp.2d 923, 929 (S.D. Tex. 2004), quoting Hayes v. MBNA Technology, Inc., 2004 WL 1283965 *6, (N.D. Tex. June 9, 2004).

Therefore, a Texas worker or employee claiming discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation against a Texas employer is not limited by the EEOC charge under Texas law. Courts will look at the EEOC charge, Intake Questionnaire, attached statements and construe all of these documents with “utmost liberality” to determine if a Texas worker or Texas employee has exhausted his or her administrative remedies.