If you have a claim for workplace sexual harassment, what is initially reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and how it’s reported, may affect your legal claim in court.

Before filing a lawsuit based on workplace sexual harassment against an employer under Title VII, a victim is required to file a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC then issues a “right to sue” notice, which allows the victim to file his/her claim in court.

In the recent case of Little v. CRSA, released by the Eleventh Circuit on August 15, 2018, the Court held that Sybil Little’s sexual harassment claim was limited by the scope of her EEOC charge, and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of her complaint.

Since 2006, Sybil Little had been employed as a technician and safety coordinator at CRSA in Fort Rucker, Alabama. She alleged in her federal court action that she was the victim of continuing sexual harassment by Jason Patrick, CRSA’s Operations Manager, and Ricky Norris, CRSA’s Lead Technician. She alleged that Patrick propositioned her for sex and that Norris commented on her body and appearance and encouraged her to wear dresses and heels so that he could watch her climb a ladder.

Sybil Little’s mistake was to only include in her EEOC charge the alleged discrimination carried out by Norris, but not by Patrick and, more importantly, she failed to include any allegations about her employer, CRSA.

The Eleventh Circuit opinion pointed out that

EEOC complaints are not strictly interpreted, and judicial claims are allowed if they amplify, clarify, or more clearly focus the allegations in the EEOC charge. But, Little’s allegations could not clarify what was not in her EEOC charge.”

Under Title VII, a claim cannot be maintained against individuals like Norris and Patrick, only against employers like CRSA. Based on the only alleged misconduct by Norris, CRSA would be held liable if Norris was alleged to be a supervisor with immediate or successively higher authority over Little, which then would make CRSA vicariously liable. CRSA could be also held directly liable if it knew or should have known of the harassing conduct but failed to take prompt remedial action. Little, however, plead no facts that Norris was anything other than a co-employee, and Little did not set forth any allegations that she told management about Norris’s misconduct. Her mere allegations that Norris made offensive comments were not enough to show that CRSA management should have known of the harassment.

If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you in all the steps necessary to properly assert your legal claim, from filing a EEOC charge through handling litigation in court.