Feb. 27, 2013 – Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Company and its parent, MillerCoors LLC, recently fought off a lawsuit filed by a former worker who alleged the behemoth beer maker retaliated against him for filing an employment discrimination claim in 2005.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed the suit in Alam v. Miller Brewing Co. et al., No. 11-2456 (Feb. 27, 2013), ruling the plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies against Miller Brewing and MillerCoors was not his “employer.”
Plaintiff Syed Alam, a software developer, worked for Miller Brewing in 2005 when he filed an employment discrimination claim against the company. The lawsuit settled in 2006, and the employment relationship between the parties ended.
Several years later, Alam pitched MillerCoors – the parent corporation of Miller and Coors Brewing companies – to develop software for its distributors. MillerCoors said he could present the software to executives after developing a software prototype.
Alam alleges he developed the software for two months, but MillerCoors then changed course and said it would not consider him. In a letter from MillerCoors’ counsel, the company told Alam that the 2006 settlement ensured no Miller Brewing affiliate “would ever have to risk dealing with you as an employee or other form of service provider.”
Alam filed a retaliation claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against MillerCoors, alleging that Miller Brewing directed MillerCoors to end any consideration of Alam’s prototype because of the previous discrimination suit.
This federal suit followed. Alam alleged that that the brewing company and its parent corporation violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both MillerCoors and Miller Brewing filed a motion to dismiss. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Judge Rudolph Randa, dismissed the case. Alam appealed.
A three-judge panel for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. First, the panel said Alam did not exhaust his administrative remedies against Miller Brewing. Second, it ruled that MillerCoors was not a former “employer” that could be sued under Title VII.
Eggleston Exception Not Applicable
The panel noted that parties must file EEOC claims before filing a Title VII suit. Alam did not file an EEOC claim against Miller Brewing. He filed the claim against MillerCoors.
The purpose of the EEOC filing is to give notice to the opposing party, the panel explained, and to provide an opportunity for parties to reconcile. Thus, parties not named in an EEOC complaint are generally not subject to suit under Title VII.
The exception, under Eggleston v. Chi. Journeyman Plumbers’ Local Union No. 130, 657 F.2d 890 (7th Cir. 1981), is if an unnamed party was still provided with adequate notice and was given an opportunity to participate in conciliation proceedings.
Alam, proceeding pro se, invoked the Eggleston exception.
But the appeals panel ruled that Alam never alleged that Miller Brewing had adequate notice or an opportunity to participate. Thus, Alam did not exhaust his administrative remedies before filing the Title VII claim against Miller Brewing.
“[T]he fact that one entity had notice of the charges against it is insufficient to satisfy the Eggleston exception as to a related entity that did not have notice of a charge against it or an opportunity to conciliate that charge,” Judge William Bauer wrote.
MillerCoors Not an Employer
The panel noted that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants based on prior discrimination claims filed against that employer. The panel said MillerCoors was never Alam’s employer.
“Alam has not alleged that he applied for employment with MillerCoors or that he was ever employed by MillerCoors,” Judge Bauer wrote. “[H]is prospective status in relation to MillerCoors was that of an independent contractor, which does not fall within the protections of Title VII.”
The panel noted that entities affiliated with former employers of Title VII plaintiffs “may be named as a Title VII defendant if it has forfeited its limited liability” or be liable through successor liability, but Alam did not allege “affiliate liability.”
Finally, the panel rejected Alam’s argument that his suit should survive because he sufficiently alleged a claim for race discrimination under 42 U.S.S. § 1981.
“Alam raises this argument for the first time on appeal, which precludes us from considering it,” Judge Bauer explained.