A nurse had foot surgery, and requested her employer to alter some of her job duties as a result of her disability. After a few months, Fairfax County, Virginia, terminated her, claiming that she could not perform the full clinical duties of a public health nurse. She claimed that her supervisor did not want her around the patients because she used a wheelchair.
She filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and described her limitations, and stated that she had requested a reasonable accommodation. When the case got to federal court, the County asked the court to dismiss the case, because she had never told the EEOC that one of the requested accommodations was to allow her to use her wheelchair in the clinic.
The Court dismissed her case for failure to include that accommodation in the EEOC process. The Fourth Circuit reversed. It agreed that an employee claiming discrimination must pursue the administrative process first. But it cautioned against erecting too many barriers against employees trying to invoke their rights. So long as the charge at the EEOC level and in court are reasonably related, the Circuit Court held that the employer had adequate notice. It pointed out that she had not changed her story about who was involved, the nature of her disability, nor did she claim sex discrimination early and change it to disability discrimination.
The Court’s reasoning makes clear that the precedent applies to not just disability, but also race, sex, religion and national origin discrimination.