486 U.S. 107 (1988), 86-1696, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Commercial Office Products Co.

Docket Nº:No. 86-1696
Citation:486 U.S. 107, 108 S.Ct. 1666, 100 L.Ed.2d 96, 56 U.S.L.W. 4424
Party Name:Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Commercial Office Products Co.
Case Date:May 16, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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486 U.S. 107 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 1666, 100 L.Ed.2d 96, 56 U.S.L.W. 4424

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

v.

Commercial Office Products Co.

No. 86-1696

United States Supreme Court

May 16, 1988

Argued January 13, 1988

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Under § 706(e) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Act), a complainant must file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the occurrence of the alleged unlawful employment practice, or within 300 days if the proceedings are initially instituted with a state or local agency having "authority to grant or seek relief." Under § 706(c), no charge may be filed with the EEOC until 60 days have elapsed from the initial filing of the charge with an authorized state or local agency, unless that agency's proceedings "have been earlier terminated." This Court has held that, in light of § 706(c)'s deferral period, a charge must be filed with, or referred by the EEOC to, the state or local agency within 240 days of the alleged discriminatory event in order to ensure that it may be filed within § 706(e)'s extended 300-day limit, unless the state or local agency terminates its proceedings before 300 days. Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807. The Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) and the EEOC have entered into a worksharing agreement, which provides that each will process certain categories of charges, and that the CCRD waives § 706(c)'s 60-day deferral period with respect to those charges processed by the EEOC, but retains jurisdiction to act on such charges after the EEOC's proceedings conclude. Alleging that, 290 days earlier, respondent had discharged her because of her sex in violation of Title VII, Suanne Leerssen filed a charge with the EEOC, which undertook the initial charge processing pursuant to the worksharing agreement. The CCRD informed Leerssen that it had waived its right in this regard, but retained jurisdiction under the agreement. Respondent refused to comply with the EEOC's administrative subpoena, and the District Court denied enforcement of the subpoena on the ground that the EEOC lacked jurisdiction because the charge was not timely filed within § 706(e)'s 300-day period. The Court of Appeals agreed, and therefore affirmed, although it rejected respondent's contention that the 300-day period was inapplicable because Leerssen had not filed the charge with the CCRD within the 180-day limitations period provided by state law.

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Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

803 F.2d 581, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, concluding that:

1. A state agency's decision to waive § 706(c)'s 60-day period, pursuant to a worksharing agreement with the EEOC, "terminates" the agency's proceedings within the meaning of § 706(c), so that the EEOC may immediately deem the charge filed and begin to process it. Respondent's contention, and the Court of Appeals' holding, that the CCRD did not "terminate" its proceedings because it retained jurisdiction to act on the EEOC's resolution of the charge must be rejected in favor of the EEOC's position that a state agency "terminates" its proceedings when it declares that it will not proceed, if it does so at all, for a specified interval of time, since the interpretation of ambiguous language in the Act by the EEOC, the agency having primary enforcement responsibility, is entitled to deference where it is reasonable. The reasonableness of the EEOC's interpretation of "terminate" in its statutory context is more than amply supported by the legislative history of Title VII's deferral provisions, the purposes of those provisions, and the language of other sections of the Act. Pp. 114-116.

2. A complainant who files a charge that is untimely under state law is nonetheless entitled to § 706(e)'s extended 300-day federal filing period. That section's [108 S.Ct. 1668] "authority to grant or seek relief" phrase does not preclude this conclusion on the theory that a state or local agency lacks the requisite authority in the absence of a timely filing under state law, since the phrase refers merely to enabling legislation establishing such agencies, not to state limitations requirements. Rather, the reasoning of Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans, 441 U.S. 750, is entirely apposite, even though that case involved the filing provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, since those provisions are virtually in haec verba with the Title VII provisions at issue here. Thus, the failure to file a timely state law claim does not automatically preclude application of Title VII's 300-day period, since the Act contains no express requirement of timely state filing, and such a requirement should not be imported in light of the Act's remedial purposes and the fact that laypersons, rather than lawyers, are expected to initiate the process, and would be confused by an additional state law filing requirement. Moreover, such a requirement would embroil the EEOC in complicated state law issues which it has neither the time nor the expertise to determine. Thus, Mohasco's 240-day filing rule applies in such cases. Pp. 122-125.

MARSHALL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, in which BRENNAN,

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WHITE, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II-B and II-C, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 125. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 126. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE MARSHALL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, and an opinion with respect to Parts II-B and II-C, in which JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE BLACKMUN joined.

This case raises two questions regarding the time limits for filing charges of employment discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The primary question presented is whether a state agency's decision to waive its exclusive 60-day period for initial processing of a discrimination charge, pursuant to a worksharing agreement with the EEOC, "terminates" the

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agency's proceedings within the meaning of § 706(c) of Title VII, 78 Stat. 260, as amended in 1972, 86 Stat. 104, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c), so that the EEOC immediately may deem the charge filed. In addition, we must decide whether a complainant who files a discrimination charge that is untimely under state law is nonetheless entitled to the extended 300-day federal filing period of § 706(e) of Title VII, 78 Stat. 260, as amended in 1972, 86 Stat. 105, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e).

I

The time limit provisions of Title VII as interpreted by this Court, establish the following procedures for filing discrimination charges with the EEOC. As a general rule, a complainant must file a discrimination charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the occurrence of the alleged unlawful employment practice. § 706(e), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e).1 If a complainant initially institutes proceedings with a state or local agency with authority to grant or seek relief from the practice charged, the time limit for filing with the EEOC is extended to 300 days. Ibid.

In order to give States and localities an opportunity to combat discrimination free from premature federal intervention,

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the Act provides that no charge may be filed with the EEOC until 60 days have elapsed from initial filing of the charge with an authorized state or local agency, unless that agency's proceedings "have been earlier terminated." § 706(c), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c).2 The EEOC's referral of a charge initially filed with the EEOC to the appropriate state or local agency properly institutes the agency's proceedings within the meaning of the Act, and the EEOC may hold the charge in "`suspended animation'" during the agency's 60-day period of exclusive jurisdiction. Love v. Pullman Co., 404 U.S. 522, 525-526 (1972). In light of the 60-day deferral period, a complainant must file a charge with the appropriate state or local agency, or have the EEOC refer the charge to that agency, within 240 days of the alleged discriminatory event in order to ensure that it may be filed with the EEOC within the 300-day limit. See Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 814, n. 16 (1980). If the complainant does not file within 240 days, the charge still may be timely filed with the

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EEOC if the state or local agency terminates its proceedings before 300 days. See ibid.

The central question in this case is whether a state agency's waiver of the 60-day deferral period, pursuant to a worksharing agreement with the EEOC, constitutes a "termination" of its proceedings so as to permit the EEOC to deem a charge filed and to begin to process it immediately. This question is of substantial importance because the EEOC has used its statutory authority to enter into worksharing agreements with approximately three-quarters of the 109 state and local agencies authorized to enforce state and local employment discrimination laws. See § 709(b), 86 Stat. 107-108, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-8(b) (authorizing the EEOC to "enter into written agreements" with state and local agencies to promote "effective enforcement" of the Act); Brief for Petitioner 4 (EEOC has entered into worksharing...

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