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PRESS RELEASE
10-15-09

Court Says EEOC Pleading In Sex Discrimination Suit Against Universal Brixius Is Sufficient

Company Motion Based on Supreme Court Ashcroft v. Iqbal Decision Is Rejected

MILWAUKEE – Federal Magistrate Judge Aaron E. Goodstein today issued a decision denying the motion of Universal Brixius to dismiss a sex discrimination lawsuit against it by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

The company’s motion was based upon the decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal (129 Sup. Ct. 1937), decided earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the Iqbal case the Supreme Court said that complaints in federal lawsuits must state more than “accusations” and “must contain sufficient factual matter [if true] to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.”The magistrate judge’s “Order Denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss” found that the EEOC’s complaint in the case met the applicable standard.

Universal Brixius is a machine parts manufacturer formerly located in Milwaukee. It is now a unit of MIC Group, LLC, which defines itself on its web site as a specialty manufacturing group, headquartered in Brenhem, Texas.

The EEOC suit, captioned EEOC v. Universal Brixius, LLC (Civil Action No. 09-C-0774), was filed August 11, 2009, in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. In its complaint, the EEOC alleged that the company violated federal law by subjecting a female employee to different terms and conditions of employment and by firing her because of her sex.

In denying Universal Brixius’ motion and ruling in favor of the EEOC, the court wrote, “[A]pplying the plausibility standard articulated in [the Supreme Court Iqbal decision], the court is faced with the question, if a female is denied overtime, restricted in her use of her vacation time, subjected to derogatory epithets, male employees were told to avoid her, and she was eventually terminated, all because of her sex, does this present a plausible claim of sex discrimination? To this court, the answer is yes.”

The court continued, “The amount of facts that must be alleged in a complaint to present a plausible claim will vary based on the nature of the claim. . . Thus, courts must be cautious so as to not interpret [the Iqbal decision] as requiring detailed factual recitations for all complaints simply because more detailed factual allegations were required in [Iqbal and other] cases due to the nature of the claims alleged.”

The court concluded, “Most sex discrimination claims are relatively straightforward and do not require pages of facts to demonstrate plausibility.”

EEOC Regional Attorney John Hendrickson of the Chicago District, which oversees Wisconsin, said, “Since the Supreme Court’s Iqbal decision, there has been concern as to how that case would be applied. Lawyers have wondered whether complaints in lawsuits would be subjected to the type of hyper-technical analysis which the ‘notice pleading’ standards of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have largely avoided. We at the EEOC were concerned that excessive litigation about how the pleadings in employment discrimination cases were written would make it more difficult to get to the fundamental issue of whether there had actually been discrimination in particular cases. This was not just ‘inside baseball’ to us.”

Hendrickson added, “So we’re pleased to see Magistrate Judge Goodstein’s Order in our Universal Brixius case. It does not impose any overly technical or complicated tests, and recognizes that different kinds of cases require different analyses. We believe that the standard applied is a common sense one which we can satisfy in the cases we litigate—and we’re happy this case is going to move ahead without a protracted fight about the pleadings.”

Sex discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its statutory conciliation process. The agency seeks compensatory and punitive damages in addition to an order barring future discrimination and other relief.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis