Supreme Court Clears FedEx Age Discrimination Case for More Hearings

February 28, 2008 ( - The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for a FedEx Corp. driver to proceed with her age discrimination suit despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) initial mishandling of the complaint.

Justice Anthony M Kennedy, in writing for the high court, ruled that even though the EEOC failed to formally notify the company of the discrimination report, FedEx driver Patricia Kennedy’s complaint the package delivery service discriminated against older employees should be allowed to move forward .

EEOC procedure in cases filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is for complaining workers to file a “charge” with the anti-workplace discrimination agency at least two months before being allowed to take the matter to court to allow for a chance for the two sides to resolve the matter informally. The ADEA, which covers workers over 40, does not define what exactly constitutes a “charge.”

Although Patricia Kennedy filled out an EEOC complaint form, the agency never told FedEx of her action and the company claimed the filing of a discrimination lawsuit was the first it knew of the situation.

class=”CM12″> The court’s majority opinion held that judges needed to give the agency considerable discretion in matters such as the FedEx case. “Just as we defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretations of the statute when it issues regulations in the first instance, the agency is entitled to further deference when it adopts a reasonable interpretation of regulations it has put in force,” the opinion asserted. “A permissible reading is that the regulations identify the procedures for filing a charge but do not state the full contents a charge document must contain. This is the agency’s position, and we defer to it “

class=”CM12″> Justices ruled that a valid ADEA “charge” only needed to contain certain information. “We conclude as follows: In addition to the information required by the regulations, i.e. , an allegation and the name of the charged party, if a filing is to be deemed a charge it must be reasonably construed as a request for the agency to take remedial action to protect the employee’s rights or otherwise settle a dispute between the employer and the employee,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

The latest ruling was seen as unlikely to serve as a precedent for a large number of workplace discrimination claims because the EEOC told the court in its legal papers that it has already clarified its ADEA complaint procedure to avoid repeats of the problem.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion said a trial court could put further legal proceedings on hold if the two sides could work out the issues outside of a courtroom.

“The employer’s interests, in particular, were given shortshrift, for it was not notified of respondent’s complaint until she filed suit,” the opinion said. “The court that hears the merits of this litigation can attempt to remedy this deficiency by staying the proceedings to allow an opportunity for conciliation and settlement. True, that remedy would be imperfect. Once the adversary process has begun a dispute may be in a more rigid cast than if conciliation had been attempted at the outset.”

Patricia Kennedy’s complaint is part of a larger suit filed by 14 current and former FedEx couriers in April 2002 charging that FedEx efficiency programs were actually designed to weed out older drivers.    A federal district judge threw out Kennedy’s complaint but the 2 nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling. The latest Supreme Court decision upholds the 2 nd Circuit’s decision.

The 2nd Circuit ruling is here . The Supreme Court’s decision is here