447 U.S. 807 (1980), 79-616, Mohasco Corp. v. Silver

Docket Nº:No. 79-616
Citation:447 U.S. 807, 100 S.Ct. 2486, 65 L.Ed.2d 532
Party Name:Mohasco Corp. v. Silver
Case Date:June 23, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 807

447 U.S. 807 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 2486, 65 L.Ed.2d 532

Mohasco Corp.

v.

Silver

No. 79-616

United States Supreme Court

June 23, 1980

Argued March 25, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 706(c) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Act) provides that, in the case of an alleged unlawful employment practice occurring in a State having a law prohibiting such practices, no charge may be "filed" with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before the expiration of 60 days after proceedings have been commenced in the appropriate state agency unless such proceedings have been earlier terminated. Section 706(e) requires that an unlawful employment practice charge be "filed" in such a State within 300 days after the alleged practice occurred or within 30 days after the aggrieved person receives notice that the state agency has terminated its proceedings, whichever is earlier. Petitioner employer discharged respondent employee on August 29, 1975. On June 15, 1976 -- 291 days later -- the EEOC received a letter from respondent claiming that petitioner had discriminated against him because of his religion, and this letter was promptly referred to the appropriate New York agency, which, in due course, determined that there was no merit to the charge. Meanwhile, on August 20, 1976 -- more than 60 days after respondent's letter had been submitted to the EEOC and 357 days after respondent's discharge -- the EEOC notified petitioner that respondent had filed an employment discrimination charge. About a year later, on August 24, 1977, the EEOC issued its determination that there was no reasonable cause to believe respondent's charge was true, and notified respondent that he had a statutory right to file a private action. Respondent then commenced such an action 91 days later in Federal District Court. Granting summary judgment for petitioner, the District Court held that § 706(c) precluded any filing with the EEOC until a date 60 days after June 15, 1976, and, because that date was 51 days beyond § 706(e)'s 300-day time limit for filing in so-called "deferral States," the charge was not timely filed. [100 S.Ct. 2488] The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the District Court's literal reading of the Act did not give sufficient weight to the Act's overriding purpose of insuring that employment discrimination is redressed, that it was necessary to conclude that a charge is "filed" for purposes of § 706(e) when received, and "filed" as required by § 706(c) when the state deferral period ends, and that therefore the letter received by the EEOC

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on June 15, 1976, had been filed within 300 days as required by § 706(e), but had not been filed during the 60-day deferral period for purposes of § 706(c) .

Held: A literal reading of §§ 706(c) and(e) so as to give the word "filed" the same meaning in both subsections gives full effect to the several policies reflected in the Act. Under this literal reading, respondent's charge was not timely filed, because it was "filed" on the 351st day (60 days after June 15, 1976, or the earliest date upon which the EEOC could allow the charge to be filed), by which time the applicable 300-day limitations period had run. Pp. 815-826.

(a) The Act's legislative history is entirely consistent with the wording of the Act itself, there being nothing to indicate that complainants in some States were to be allowed to proceed with less diligence than those in other States or to give deferral state complainants any advantage over nondeferral state complainants with respect to the time for filing unlawful employment practice charges. Pp. 818-824.

(b) A literal reading of the statute is not unfair to victims of employment discrimination who often proceed without the assistance of counsel. P. 825.

(c) There is no merit to respondent's argument based on the EEOC's interpretation, since that agency's interpretation cannot supersede the language chosen by Congress. P. 825.

(d) Nor is there any merit to the argument that a less literal reading of the statute allowing the EEOC to treat a letter received on the 291st day as "filed," and interpreting § 706(c)'s prohibition as merely requiring the EEOC to postpone any action on a charge for at least 60 days, would adequately effectuate the policy of deferring to state agencies. Congress clearly intended to encourage the prompt processing of all employment discrimination charges. To accept respondent's position would add a 60-day period to the schedule mandated by Congress, and would unreasonably give the word "filed" two different meanings in the same section of the Act. Pp. 825-826.

602 F.2d 1083, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 826.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this Title VII case is whether Congress intended the word "filed" to have the same meaning in subsections (c)1 and (e)2 of § 706 of the Civil Rights [100 S.Ct. 2489] Act of 1964,

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78 Stat. 260, as amended in 1972, 86 Stat. 10105, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5(c) and(e). The former subsection prohibits the filing of an unfair employment practice charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) until after a state fair employment practices agency has had an opportunity to consider it. The latter subsection requires that, in all events, the charge must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the occurrence. We hold that a literal reading of the two subsections gives full effect to the several policies reflected in the statute.

On August 29, 1975, Mohasco Corp. discharged the respondent from his position as senior marketing economist.3 On June 15, 1976 -- 291 days later -- the EEOC received a letter from respondent asserting that Mohasco had discriminated against him because of his religion. The letter was promptly referred to the New York State Division of Human Rights. That state agency reviewed the matter4 and, in due course, determined that there was no merit in the charge.5

Meanwhile, on August 20, 1976 -- a date more than 60 days after respondent's letter had been submitted to the EEOC and

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357 days after respondent's discharge -- the EEOC notified Mohasco that respondent had filed a charge of employment discrimination.6

About a year later, on August 24, 1977, the EEOC issued its determination that "there is not reasonable cause to believe the charge is true,"7 and formally notified respondent that, if he wished to pursue the matter further, he had a statutory right to file a private action in a federal district court within 90 days.8 Respondent commenced this litigation 91 days later9 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.10

The District Court granted Mohasco's motion for summary judgment on the ground that respondent's failure to file a

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timely charge with the EEOC deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction. The court concluded that June 15, 1976 (the 291st day), could not be treated as the date that respondent's charge was "filed" with the EEOC, because § 76(c) provides that, in States which have their own fair employment practice agencies -- and New York is such a State --

no charge may be filed . . . by the person aggrieved before the expiration of sixty days after proceedings have been commenced under the State or local law, unless such proceedings have been earlier terminated. . . .

Since no proceedings had been commenced before the New York agency prior to June 15, 1976, and since the proceedings that were commenced at that time did not terminate within 60 days, the District Court read 706(c) as precluding any filing with the EEOC until 60 days after June 15, 1976.11 Because that date was 51 days beyond § 706(e)'s 300-day time limit for filing in so-called "deferral States," the charge was not timely filed.

The District Court refused to apply an EEOC regulation12

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that would have treated respondent's charge as timely because it was submitted to the EEOC within 300 days of the practice complained of and also within the applicable New York limitations period.13 The District Court held that the regulation was contrary to the plain language of the statute, and, in any event, had not been followed by the EEOC itself in this case.14

Over the dissent of Judge Meskill, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. 602 F.2d 1083 (1979). It recognized that the District Court had read the statute literally, but concluded that a literal reading did not give sufficient weight to the overriding purpose of the Act. In the majority's view, in order to be faithful to "the strong federal policy in insuring that employment discrimination is redressed," id. at 1087, it was necessary

to conclude that a charge is "filed" for purposes of § 706(e) when received, and "filed" as required [100 S.Ct. 2491] by § 706(c) when the state deferral period ends.

Ibid. By giving the word "filed" two different meanings, the court concluded that the letter received by the EEOC on June 15, 1976, had been filed within 300 days as required by § 706(e),15 but had not been filed during the 60-day deferral period for purposes of § 706(c).

Judge Meskill believed that a literal reading of the statute was not only consistent with its basic purpose, but was also warranted by the additional purpose of "requir[ing] prompt action on the part of Title VII plaintiffs." 602 F.2d at 1092. He noted that Congress had imposed a general requirement of filing...

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