Texas Court Rules That Completing EEOC Questionnaire Does Not Count as Filing a Charge

Randi Klein Hyatt
Randi Klein Hyatt

An allegedly sexually harassed terminated employee completed her EEOC questionnaire in April 2011, but did not file a charge of discrimination under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”) until she was fired in October 2011. Because the last alleged harassment incident occurred in December 2010, she failed to file the charge within the TCHRA’s 180-day deadline. Lawson v. Parker Hannifin Corp., 4:13-cv-00923 (N.D. Tex., Oct. 19, 2014).

Christie Lawson worked for Parker Hannifin Corporation from April 2010 through September 2011. She alleged that Parker Hannifin did not do enough to protect her after she was allegedly sexually harassed by a manager. On October 7, 2011, Ms. Lawson filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and later sued Parker Hannifin for sexual harassment and retaliation.

The TCHRA requires that complaints be filed within 180 days after the date of the alleged unlawful employment practice. Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.202(a). The 180-day time limit is “mandatory and jurisdictional.” Specialty Retailers, Inc. v. DeMoranville, 933 S.W.2d 490, 492 (Tex. 1996). “‘The proper focus is upon the time of the discriminatory acts, not upon the time at which the consequences of the acts become most painful.’” Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 258 (1980) (emphasis in original) (quotation omitted). Accordingly, the court’s concern was when the discriminatory acts occurred against Ms. Lawson and when Ms. Lawson filed her charge of discrimination. The last alleged discriminatory act occurred 297 days prior to the charge of discrimination.

Lawson first asked the court to apply equitable tolling to determine the timeliness of her charge. However, the 180 deadline is not subject to equitable tolling because it is jurisdictional. Ajayi v. Walgreen Co., 562 F. App’x 243, 246 (5th Cir. 2014). Thus, the court could not consider equitable tolling.

Next, Ms. Lawson argued that her April 4, 2011 intake questionnaire was a “charge.” An intake questionnaire does not constitute a charge under the TCHRA when the questionnaire does not provide an employer with notice of the claims against it. Harris v. Honda, 213 F. App’x 258, 261-62 (5th Cir. 2006). Here, there was no evidence that Parker Hannifin had notice of Lawson’s intake questionnaire. Accordingly, the court declined to construe the intake questionnaire as a charge.

Finally, Ms. Lawson contended that her sexual harassment claim was encompassed within her retaliation claim. The court’s scope of inquiry was limited to the scope of the EEOC investigation that could reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge. Here, there was no evidence that the EEOC considered sexual harassment in its investigation; therefore, Ms. Lawson’s charge of discrimination for sexual harassment was untimely. Parker Hannifin was awarded summary judgment.

Parker Hannifin was also awarded summary judgment on the retaliatory termination  claim. The lapse of more than seven months between Ms. Lawson’s protected activity and Parker Hannifin’s adverse employment action did not amount to a causal connection between the two, and Ms. Lawson’s timecard fraud provided a legitimate non-retaliatory basis for her termination.

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