Beware of the EEOC’s Continued Efforts to Bring Class Actions Against Employers

Contributed by Sara Zorich

January 11, 2013 was a victory day for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the matter of EEOC v. UPS, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4462 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 11, 2013) and a day on which employers should take note that courts have made it less burdensome in the Northern District for the EEOC to bring class action lawsuits against employers.

In 2009, the EEOC filed a complaint on behalf of Trudi Momsen (Momsen) and other unidentified class members alleging that United Postal Service (UPS) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by permitting Momsen and the other class members only twelve-month leaves of absence and failing to provide them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities.  The court dismissed the complaint on the basis that the EEOC had failed to plead that Momsen and others were qualified individuals under the ADA.  The EEOC then filed an amended complaint pleading additional facts about Momsen, added an additional individual and plead more specific facts stating that the unidentified class members were qualified individuals able to perform the essential functions of their job and that UPS failed to reasonably accommodate these unidentified individuals.  The EEOC did not plead any specific facts with regard to any of the unidentified individuals.  The court once again dismissed the EEOC’s complaint on the basis that it failed to plead any specific facts regarding the unidentified individuals.  The EEOC then sought leave to file a second amended complaint that added the claim that the unidentified individuals were part of a common scheme to terminate individuals with disabilities through an alleged inflexible process and lack of individual analysis, which the Court denied.

In response to the court’s denial, the EEOC then filed a motion requesting the district court to certify the matter for appeal to address whether the EEOC must plead individual facts regarding class members.  In its response to the EEOC’s motion, the court reviewed its prior rulings, reviewed the case law and reversed its prior dismissals of the EEOC complaints.  In a change of stance, the court held that the EEOC’s first amended complaint met the sufficient pleading standard since it identified “the statutes that UPS allegedly violated; the time frame in which the alleged violations occurred; the names of two presently identified victims; a general description of the class of aggrieved persons; the specific claims alleged and their elements as to the charging party and the class of aggrieved persons; the types of conduct to which the named claimants and the unidentified class were subjected; and the remedies being sought.”  Thus, the court changed its previous view and now found that the EEOC did not have to plead any specific facts about unidentified class members in order to survive a motion to dismiss.

Take away: Employers should be cognizant that the EEOC is aggressively pursuing class actions against employers.  Furthermore, based on the ruling in this matter, the EEOC may file a class action without having to plead any specific evidence regarding unidentified class members.  This does not mean that the EEOC will be victorious on the merits of the case, but rather that this minimal pleading will allow them to survive a motion to dismiss.