Illinois District Court Refuses to “Supersize” Race Discrimination Claims Against McDonald’s

In this day and age when discrimination lawsuits are commonplace, it is all too easy to forget that Title VII was passed in the hopes that discrimination claims could and would be resolved outside of court.  When Congress enacted Title VII, it expressly included the requirements of the filing of a charge, and of conciliation, to resolve discrimination complaints without litigation.  Ironically, it is now the plaintiffs’ bar that tries to get around these requirements by filing charges that do not include class allegations, and then seeking to assert them in court once a charge has been dismissed.

Not so fast.  Numerous courts are refusing to permit a plaintiff to pursue class action allegations when they have not been raised in a charge or have only been raised obliquely, as a recent decision from the Northern District of Illinois demonstrates.  In Dovgin v. McDonald’s Corporation.pdf, Case No. 11 C 7883 (May 25, 2012, N.D. Ill.), three plaintiffs raised various race or religious discrimination claims against McDonald’s. In each case, the plaintiffs had filed charges addressing their own personal situations, but that did not reference class wide discrimination.  In the subsequent lawsuit, however,  they sought to pursue class-wide claims. 

The District Court dismissed the class-wide allegations.  It found that a charge was intended to fulfill two purposes, providing notice to the defendant and giving the EEOC the opportunity to investigate and conciliate.  Absent class allegations in the charge, such claims could not be pursued in court.

While not addressed in the court’s opinion, one can only wonder why the claims were brought in the manner they were.  McDonald’s has a robust diversity commitment and has strongly supported minorities as franchisees and vendors.  Put another way, while a large employer, it has an enviable record on race.   Moreover, the plaintiffs brought claims for different types of race discrimination (African American, Korean, Indian) and religion, as well as for different alleged discriminatory acts (training, negative performance reviews, discharge).  Had the plaintiffs properly alleged class claims in the charge, it is difficult to see how such claims could proceed as a class.

One might also wonder why class allegations were not alleged in the charge.  The EEOC has made addressing systemic discrimination a priority and has aggressively pursued such claims against many employers.  Apart from the desire to bring a claim directly in court, a desire Title VII discourages, such claims should be raised to promote Title VII’s aims of resolving claims outside of litigation.

The Bottom Line:  A plaintiff cannot assert Title VII class claims without identifying them in a properly filed charge of discrimination.