Amini v. Oberlin College

Decision Date08 June 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-3550,00-3550
Citation259 F.3d 493
Parties(6th Cir. 2001) Saeid B. Amini, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Oberlin College, Defendant-Appellee. Submitted:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Michael J. Frantz, Michael N. Chesney, FRANTZ WARD, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.

Saeid B. Amini, Cleveland, Ohio, pro se.

Before: KEITH, BATCHELDER, and MOORE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Saeid Amini ("Amini" or "plaintiff") appeals the district court's dismissal of his Title VII and Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") claims as time-barred under the 300-day limitations period applicable to both claims, and the district court's dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. §1981 claim of race discrimination due to plaintiff's failure to allege sufficient facts showing that Oberlin College ("Oberlin") took into account his race in making its employment decision. We AFFIRM the district court's decision dismissing plaintiff's Title VII and ADEA claims as time-barred, but REVERSE and REMAND the district court's decision dismissing plaintiff's §1981 claim of race discrimination.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Saeid Amini, "is a 45 year old Iranian born Muslim male living in the United States lawfully since August 28, 1977." Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at tab 1, p. 2 (Compl.). According to his complaint, Amini earned his Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of Iowa, and has developed and taught more than ten different math and statistics courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. Amini has previously been employed at the National Center for Toxicological Research, the National Institute of Environmental Health, the Deborah Heart and Lung Center, and the Case Western Reserve University ("CWRU") School of Medicine. Amini worked for ten years at CWRU School of Medicine, and for five years taught as an associate professor at the medical school. While at CWRU, the plaintiff earned a law degree at CWRU's School of Law. Amini currently "is in private legal practice and teaches statistics part time in various colleges." J.A. at tab 1, p. 3 (Compl.).

In early October 1998, Amini applied for a tenure-track, four-year faculty position in Oberlin's Department of Mathematics. On October 14, 1998, Amini received a letter from Jeffrey Witmer, Professor of Mathematics at Oberlin, acknowledging the receipt of Amini's application. Oberlin had no further contact with Amini until he received a letter, dated January 12, 1999, from Witmer informing him that Oberlin had filled its mathematics faculty position. The letter stated, in part: "I regret to report that we have now filled our statistics position for next year. I am sorry that we could not pursue more energetically more of the excellent candidates who applied." J.A. at tab 1, Ex. C (Witmer Letter, 1/12/99). The letter did not state whom Oberlin had hired to fill the position.

Following receipt of the letter, Amini made several attempts to learn whom Oberlin had hired. According to his complaint, Amini's attempts consisted of regularly checking Oberlin's web site to see if information on the new faculty member had been posted, as well as a personal visit to the campus and Oberlin's Mathematics Department in March 1999. Amini claims that, as late as July 1999, Oberlin still had not posted the name of its new statistics professor on its web site. At no time in his complaint does Amini allege that he contacted anyone at Oberlin College in an attempt to learn whom Oberlin had hired for the faculty position.

On September 16, 1999, the plaintiff again visited Oberlin's web site and this time discovered that Dr. Chris Andrews, an Oberlin graduate and white male under the age of forty, had been hired for the statistics position. According to Amini's complaint, Andrews had only one year of teaching experience as compared with Amini's fifteen years' experience, and Andrews had published only two professional articles as compared with Amini's more than seventy articles. Based on Andrews's alleged inferior credentials, Amini believed that Oberlin's decision not to hire him constituted discrimination on the basis of "race, religion, age and country of origin." J.A. at tab 1, p. 5 (Compl.).

In late October 1999, Amini attempted on several occasions to schedule an appointment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") so that he could file a charge against Oberlin. Amini did not file his charge with the EEOC until December 9, 1999.

On January 14, 2000, the EEOC dismissed plaintiff's charge as untimely and then issued him a right to sue letter. On January 31, 2000, Amini filed a complaint against Oberlin, alleging that the college intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of race, national origin, and religion in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. §1981. Amini also alleged that Oberlin discriminated on the basis of age in violation of the ADEA. Thereafter, Oberlin filed a motion to dismiss Amini's claims. Oberlin claimed that both Amini's Title VII and ADEA claims were filed beyond the 300-day time period given the plaintiff in which to file a charge with the EEOC. Oberlin moved to dismiss Amini's §1981 claim on the ground that the allegations in his complaint supported only a claim of national origin discrimination, a claim Oberlin contends is not cognizable under §1981.

The district court granted Oberlin's motion to dismiss. The court first noted that "[b]oth Title VII and the ADEA require potential litigants to file charges with the EEOC within 300 days of the alleged unlawful employment action[.]" J.A. at tab 5, p. 5 (Dist. Ct. Op.). Because more than 300 days had elapsed from the date of the letter notifying Amini that he was no longer being considered for the mathematics faculty position until he filed his discrimination charge with the EEOC (329 days elapsed in this time, according to Amini), and because the factors used to determine if equitable tolling relief is warranted did not weigh in plaintiff's favor, the court dismissed Amini's Title VII and ADEA claims as time-barred.

The district court also agreed with Oberlin's argument regarding Amini's §1981 claim. Noting that §1981 deals with claims of racial discrimination, as opposed to discrimination on the basis of age, sex, and national origin, the court held that plaintiff's complaint did not adequately allege that Oberlin took into account his race, ancestry, or ethnic background in making its employment decision. Instead, according to the district court, the only facts Amini stated in his complaint regarding this matter were the following: "Plaintiff is a 45 year old Iranian born Muslim male living in the United States lawfully since August 28, 1977." J.A. at tab 1, p. 2 (Compl.). Citing to the Supreme Court's decision in Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604 (1987), the district court stated that, because Amini's complaint did not "mention his race, ancestry, or ethnic background[,]" Amini had not adequately alleged a claim of racial discrimination under §1981. J.A. at tab 5, p. 8 (Dist. Ct. Op.). Amini's appeal to this court followed.

II. ANALYSIS
A. Standard of Review

We review de novo a district court's decision dismissing a complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Gregory v. Shelby County, Tenn., 220 F.3d 433, 445-46 (6th Cir. 2000). We view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, treat all well-pleaded allegations therein as true, and will dismiss the plaintiff's claims only if it is without doubt that the plaintiff "can prove no set of facts in support of the claims that would entitle him to relief." Id. The district court's determination that the 300-day period in which to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC was exceeded is also reviewed de novo. Southwest Williamson County Cmty. Ass'n, Inc. v. Slater, 173 F.3d 1033, 1035 (6th Cir. 1999). Finally, "where the facts are undisputed or the district court rules as a matter of law that equitable tolling is unavailable, we apply the de novo standard of review to a district court's refusal to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling; in all other cases, we apply the abuse of discretion standard." Dunlap v. United States, 250 F.3d 1001, 1007 n.2 (6th Cir. 2001). Because this court must assume all factual allegations in Amini's complaint are true, there are no factual disputes in this case that would preclude de novo review of the equitable tolling issue.

B. The Timeliness of Amini's Title VII and ADEA Claims

Plaintiffs must typically file a timely discrimination charge with the EEOC in order to bring a Title VII lawsuit.Alexander v. Local 496, Laborers' Int'l Union of N. Am., 177 F.3d 394, 407 (6th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1154 (2000). Pursuant to the statutory language of Title VII, the applicable statute of limitations begins to run from the date of "the alleged unlawful employment practice[.]" 42 U.S.C. §2000e-5(e)(1). Title VII has a dual statute of limitations, which we have explained as follows:

Usually, if the alleged discrimination occurred more than 180 days prior to the plaintiff's filing of an EEOC charge, claims implicating these actions are barred. However, if the alleged unlawful practice occurs in a "deferral state," in this case Ohio, which has enacted its own laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, the plaintiff must file suit within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act.

Alexander, 177 F.3d at 407 (citation omitted). The alleged unlawful employment practice in this case did occur in Ohio, a deferral state, and thus the 300-day period in which to file an EEOC charge under Title VII applies. The same 300-day time limit for filing a charge with the EEOC applies in age discrimination cases brought under the ADEA. 29 U.S.C. §626(d).

While neither party disputes that the 300-day period of limitations applies to this case, the parties do...

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