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Reed v. St. Charles R-VI School District

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

October 18, 2016




         This lawsuit alleges racial and age discrimination by the St. Charles School District and two of its supervisors toward members of the District's transportation staff, including bus drivers and dispatchers. The suit was filed by five white employees who allege that they were subjected to harsher discipline than similarly-situated African-American employees and denied “perquisites and benefits” relative to African-American employees. See, e.g., ECF No. 23-1 at 1, 8, and 18 (alleging white employees were disciplined more harshly for employment infractions than African-Americans, who were often not disciplined at all); see also ECF No. 1-1 at 33 (alleging that similarly-situated African-American employees were given extra opportunities to work extra overtime, and that African-Americans were permitted to change positions when they were allegedly not succeeding at their prior positions, while white employees were disciplined more harshly). The suit alleges violation of multiple statutes, including (1) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); (2) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”); and (3) the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”).

         Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss all claims filed by Plaintiff Gerald Fritz (“Fritz”). In the motion, Defendants move to dismiss Fritz' Title VII and MHRA claims because Fritz did not file an administrative complaint of discrimination with either the Missouri Human Rights Commission (“MHRC”) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), as required under both Title VII and the MHRA. See U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c) (Title VII); and Mo.Rev.Stat. § 213.075 (MRHA). Furthermore, Defendants urge dismissal of Fritz' § 1983 claim because that count fails to state a claim once the Title VII claims are thrown out, and because § 1983 does not provide substantive rights, as Title VII does, but merely provides a remedy for violation of substantive rights enumerated elsewhere, such as Title VII.

         Fritz opposes the motion to dismiss. Fritz contends that the “single filing rule” excuses him from exhausting his administrative remedies, and permits him to “piggyback” off of the administrative filings of the other plaintiffs. Fritz also argues (for the first time in his brief opposing the motion to dismiss) that he has independently and sufficiently pled a cause of action under § 1983 for constitutional violations that are separate from his Title VII and MHRA claims. For the reasons discussed below, the Court agrees that Fritz is entitled to use of the piggyback rule, and that at this stage, Fritz has adequately pled a cause of action under § 1983. Therefore, the Court will DENY Defendants' motion to dismiss all counts filed by Fritz.


         Under Title VII and the MHRA, any plaintiff wishing to bring a lawsuit must first exhaust his or her administrative remedies. See Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 109 (2002) (describing Title VII exhaustion requirements); and Igoe v. Dep't of Labor & Indus. Relations, 152 S.W.3d 284, 287 (Mo. 2005) (noting that the filing of an administrative complaint “is a prerequisite to seeking judicial relief” under the MHRA). This means a prospective plaintiff must file an administrative charge of discrimination with either the EEOC or the MHRC prior to filing a lawsuit. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c); and Mo.Rev.Stat. § 213.075. The administrative filing requirement serves two important purposes. “It gives the EEOC an opportunity to eliminate unlawful practices through informal conciliation, and it provides employers with formal notice of the charges being brought against them.” See Ulvin v. Northwestern Nat. Life Ins. Co., 943 F.2d 862, 865 (8th Cir. 1991).

         There are a limited number of exceptions to the exhaustion rule. One is the so-called “single-filing” rule. This judicially-created exception to the exhaustion requirement permits plaintiffs who have not exhausted their administrative remedies to “piggyback” off of the valid administrative complaints filed by others involved in the case in limited circumstances. This principle appears to have been first recognized in this Circuit in Allen v. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788, 554 F.2d 876, 882 (8th Cir. 1977).

         In Allen, a group of minority union members were not given the same benefits as the white members of their union. Two individuals (including Allen) properly filed complaints with the EEOC before filing suit under Title VII, see Allen, 554 F.2d at 882, but thirteen other minority members of the union joining the lawsuit failed to do so. The District Court dismissed those thirteen plaintiffs because they had not exhausted their administrative remedies. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that “it would be nonsensical to require each of the plaintiffs to individually file administrative charges with the EEOC” in that case, because the thirteen each alleged that they were similarly situated to Allen, and similarly discriminated against. Allen 554 F.2d at 882-83. In such circumstances, the court held, “defendants have in no way been placed in jeopardy.” Id. at 883. The court permitted the thirteen plaintiffs who had not exhausted their remedies to “piggyback” off of the administrative complaint filed by Allen.

         Later, in Kloos v. Carter-Day Co., 799 F.2d 397, 400 (8th Cir. 1986), in the context of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), the Eighth Circuit specifically adopted the “single filing rule, ” and more clearly discussed its rationale and applicability. In that case, plaintiff Kloos, who worked for Carter-Day, alleged that his employer discriminated against him on the basis of age. Kloos hoped to represent a class of Carter-Day employees who were similarly discriminated against. Thirteen plaintiffs attempted to join the action, only one of whom had previously filed an administrative complaint. The action was dismissed as to those individuals who had not filed a previous discrimination complaint. The Eighth Circuit upheld this dismissal, but in doing so, it recognized that “ADEA opt-in class plaintiffs should not be required personally to file administrative charges, ” where the administrative complaint “at least alleges class-wide discrimination or claims to represent a class.” Kloos, 799 F.2d at 402 (emphasis in original). The court indicated that a non-exhausting plaintiff may piggyback off of a properly-filed administrative charge where the properly-filed charge fulfilled the purposes of exhaustion-providing notice to the employer as to the nature and scope of discrimination charges, and providing an opportunity to the state agency or EEOC to work informally with the employer to eliminate the unlawful practices. Kloos, 799 F.2d at 400. The administrative charge at issue in Kloos, however, failed to allege class-wide age discrimination, or claim to represent a class. Therefore, the notice purpose was not served, and the single-filing rule was not applicable.

         The single filing rule continued to be recognized over the ensuing years, with uneven results. Compare Ulvin, 943 F.2d at 865 (denying applicability of the single filing rule because piggybacking plaintiffs raised claims outside the scope of the properly-filed administrative complaint upon which they wanted to piggyback); and Thomure v. Phillips Furniture Co., 30 F.3d 1020, 1027 (8th Cir. 1994) (denying a piggyback claim); with Winbush v. State of Iowa by Glenwood State Hosp., 66 F.3d 1471, 1478 (8th Cir. 1995) (permitting piggybacking where “the EEOC filings that were made put the defendants on notice of allegations that they discriminated against their African-American employees”); and Simpson v. Boeing, 27 F.Supp.3d 989, 991-993 (E.D.Mo. 2014) (allowing non-exhausting plaintiffs to piggyback where plaintiff who exhausted remedies made allegations that were sufficient to put employer on notice of a potential class action).[2]

         Outside of the Eighth Circuit, every circuit to consider the question appears to have adopted some version of the single-filing rule. See Tolliver v. Xerox Corp., 918, F.2d 1052, 1056 (2nd Cir. 1990) (setting forth that circuit's requirements for invocation of the “single-filing rule”); Bettcher v. Brown Schools, Inc., 262 F.3d 492, 494-95 (5th Cir. 2001) (same); Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Wilson Metal Casket Co., 24 F.3d 836 (6th Cir. 1994) (acknowledging the single-filing rule); Horton v. Jackson County Bd. Of County Comm'rs, 343 F.3d 897, 899 (7th Cir. 2003) (acknowledging single filing rule, but declining to apply it); Foster v. Ruhrpumpen, Inc., 365 F.3d 1191, 1197 (10th Cir. 2004) (applying the single-filing rule); Ezell v. Mobile Housing Board, 709 F.2d 1376, 1381 (11th Cir. 1983); De Medina v. Reinhardt, 686 F.2d 997, 1012-13 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (applying the single-filing rule).

         There is one additional wrinkle to the analysis, which is the Supreme Court case of National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002). Morgan, which post-dates the adoption of the single-filing rule, focused on the continuing violation doctrine, but is emphatic that “each discrete discriminatory act [i.e., an act that is not a part of a continuing violation] starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act.” Morgan, 536 U.S. at 113. The single-filing rule is implicated by this analysis because it not only dispenses with the need to file a separate charge for each violation of an employee's rights, but also and necessarily with the need to file a timely charge. Therefore, Morgan may have undermined the “single-filing” rule because the single-filing rule is perhaps even broader than the continuing violation doctrine that was abrogated in Morgan.

         A discussion of Morgan in Richter v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc., 686 F.3d 847, 851 (8th Cir. 2012), makes this clear. The Eighth Circuit there shows that the Morgan Court began with the premise that Title VII requires an administrative charge to be filed “within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” Richter, 686 F.3d at 851. The court emphasized the need to treat each discriminatory action discretely, and thus exhaust each claim independently. “The use of the definite article shows that the complainant must file a charge with respect to each alleged unlawful employment practice.” Id. This language, as well as the language in Morgan, then, is in some tension with the broadest language in some of the single-filing cases, because broad notions of “notice” to the defendant are not the grounds for decision in these newer cases. Instead, cases like Morgan and Richter emphasize the statutory language requiring that “the alleged unlawful employment practice” be presented to the EEOC.

         Nonetheless, the holding of Allen, which established the single-filing rule in Title VII cases, still appears to be good law, as does the holding of Kloos, which explicitly discussed the single-filing rule in the ADEA context.[3] Therefore, plaintiffs who allege that they have been discriminated against may still rely on the single filing rule where the purposes of the exhaustion requirement have been met: that is, where the defendant has notice of the charges, and where the government agency has had a chance to negotiate an end to the unlawful practices through informal methods of conciliation. See Kloos, 799 F.2d at 400; see also Simpson, 27 F.Supp.3d at 991-93 ...

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