4th Circuit Remands Staffing Literacy Case

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The 4th Circuit remanded a discrimination case filed against Randstad, reversing an earlier ruling in favor of the staffing company accused of not placing workers if they cannot read or write English.
     The case, filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007, stems from a complaint filed by Kevin Morrison, a Jamaican-born Maryland resident said Randstad fired him due to his inability to read or write English, a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
     Two years later Morrison filed an amended complaint with the EEOC to include an additional discrimination charge after it was discovered he had a learning disability.
     Randstad admitted that it fired Morrison because he could not read, but denied that the firing was the result of national origin or disability discrimination.
     Rather, the company said, it had an “unwritten policy against hiring people who cannot read because virtually all of the assignments Randstad is called upon to fill require ready and/or writing skills.”
     However, Randstad conceded it did place Morrison in at least four positions with various companies before firing him despite his inability to read.
     The EEOC filed a petition seeking various statistics from the company and stated that Randstad’s literacy requirement “may have a disparate impact on Jamaicans and others who are not fluent in English due to their national origin.”
     Randstad argued the numbers the EEOC requested were a burden to put together and would potentially cost them over $330,000 due to the structure of their computer systems.
     Randstad also argued that Morrison’s amended charge was “untimely on its face” because it alleged a “new theory of recovery” and therefore did not relate back to the date of his original charge.
     District Judge Richard Bennett of Maryland originally denied the petition, saying that Randstad’s policy “relates to the matter of reading and writing ability, not national origin.”
     He also noted that “Jamaica is an English speaking island” and felt that none of the information requested in the subpoena would be relevant to national origin discrimination.
     But a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit disagreed, finding that the Commission is entitled to an order enforcing its’ subpoena because “to establish its authority to investigate, the EEOC need only present an ‘arguable’ basis for jurisdiction.”
     Writing for the panel, Judge Mark Davis also dismissed Randstad’s claims about the amended complaint, stating that the new charges of disability discrimination “clarifies and amplifies allegations made in a prior charge.”
     Davis notes that once the EEOC has authority to investigate a particular charge of discrimination, it may access “any evidence of any person being investigated or proceeded against that relates to unlawful employment practices covered by this subchapter and is relevant to the charge under investigation.”
     Citing a 2002 ruling against Delta Airlines, Davis says that the EEOC’s authority to investigate “is not negated simply because the party under investigation may have a valid defense to a later suit.” He continues; “If it turns out Randstad’s assertion that all of its positions require literacy is unsupported by the requested materials, then those materials might turn out to constitute evidence of unlawful discrimination. Accordingly, information on at least some positions other than those held by Morrison is relevant to the EEOC’s investigation.”

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