Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 20, 2023
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 20, 2023//
Where a woman failed to name her actual employer in her charge of discrimination, and instead incorrectly named an affiliated entity, but her confusion was excusable and there was no prejudice to the actual employer, its motion to dismiss was denied.
Keon Renee Harris brings this action against VCU Health Systems Authority, or VCUHS, asserting a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss.
As a prerequisite to filing suit under Title VII, a plaintiff must exhaust her administrative remedies by filing a charge with the EEOC. Moreover, a civil action may be brought only “against the respondent named in the charge.” Defendant argues that plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, because she alleged sex discrimination against VCU, as opposed to VCUHS. Plaintiff concedes that VCU and VCUHS are separate legal entities but argues that the substantial identity exception applies in this case.
To determine whether substantial identity exists, courts have often considered four factors: (1) whether the role of the unnamed party could through reasonable effort by the complainant be ascertained at the time of the filing of the EEOC complaint; (2) whether, under the circumstances, the interests of a named [party] are so similar as the unnamed party’s that for the purpose of obtaining voluntary conciliation and compliance it would be unnecessary to include the unnamed party in the EEOC proceedings; (3) whether its absence from the EEOC proceedings resulted in actual prejudice to the interests of the unnamed party [and] (4) whether the unnamed party has in some way represented to the complainant that its relationship with the complainant is to be through the named party.
As to the first factor, the court finds that Harris could not reasonably ascertain the distinction between VCUHS and VCU at the time of filing the EEOC charge. Under the second factor, the court may infer that, under the circumstances, the interests of VCU and VCUHS are substantially similar. Notably the parties do not dispute that VCU and VCUHS are affiliated entities with overlapping leadership.
Lastly, the court accords great weight to the third factor and finds that VCUHS suffered no actual prejudice. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter four days after Harris filed her charge of discrimination. Because no investigation or formal conciliation efforts occurred in the four days while the case was before the EEOC, VCUHS could not have been prejudiced by Harris’ failure to name it in the charge.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss denied.
Harris v. VCU Health Systems Authority, Case No. 3:23-cv-481, Oct. 30, 2023. EDVA at Richmond (Novak). VLW 023-3-699. 9 pp.