Edelman v. Lynchburg College

Decision Date08 June 2000
Citation228 F.3d 503
Parties(4th Cir. 2000) LEONARD EDELMAN,, v. LYNCHBURG COLLEGE, . Argued:
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Lynchburg.

Norman K. Moon, District Judge. (CA-99-60-6)

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, Charlson Bredehoft, P.C., Reston, Virginia, for Appellant. Mary Virginia Barney, Alexander Bell, P.L.C., Lynchburg, Virginia, for Appellee. ON Brief: Kristine H. Smith, Edmunds & Williams, P.C., Lynchburg, Virginia, for Appellant. Alexander W. Bell, Alexander Bell, P.L.C., Lynchburg, Virginia, for Appellee.

Before Wilkins and Luttig, Circuit Judges, and Robert R. Beezer, Senior Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting by designation.

Affirmed and remanded by published opinion. Senior Judge Beezer wrote the opinion, in which Judge Wilkins joined. Judge Luttig wrote a concurring opinion.


Beezer, Senior Circuit Judge.

Leonard Edelman appeals the district court's dismissal of his employment discrimination action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This case presents an issue of first impression in this circuit: whether 29 C.F.R. § 1601.12(b), a regulation promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), conflicts with the statutory requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, specifically 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) and 2000e-5(e)(1), to the extent that the regulation permits a charge of discrimination to be verified after the expiration of the applicable limitations period. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Because we conclude that, so applied, the EEOC regulation is contrary to the plain language of the statute, we affirm the dismissal of Edelman's action on the grounds that he failed to file a timely charge of discrimination.


Edelman, a white Polish-Jewish male biology professor, was denied tenure by Lynchburg College on June 6, 1997. On November 14, 1997, Edelman sent a letter to the EEOC alleging that he had been subject to "gender-based employment discrimination, exacerbated by discrimination on the basis of [his] family's national origin and religion." According to Edelman, Jacqueline Asbury, the Dean of the College, opposed his tenure because she wanted to improve the percentage of tenured women on the faculty. Edelman claims that Asbury ignored the uniform support of his department chairman, an ad hoc faculty committee, and the Faculty Personnel Committee. At the conclusion of his letter, Edelman wrote, "I hereby file a charge of employment discrimination against Lynchburg College (Dean Jacqueline Asbury, President Charles Warren and the Board of Trustees) and I call upon the EEOC to investigate this case[.]" Edelman's letter was received by the EEOC on November 18, 1997. On November 26, 1997, Edelman's attorney sent another letter to the EEOC that stated:

Professor Edelman would like to have a personal interview with an EEOC investigator prior to the final charging docu ments being served on the college. It is my understanding that delay occasioned by the interview will not compromise the filing date, which will remain as November 14, 1997. Please advise if my understanding in this regard is not correct.

* * * * * *

Finally, please have the investigator contact this office to schedule the interview at a mutually convenient time.

Shortly thereafter, the EEOC sent a letter to Edelman advising him that it needed additional information in order to investigate his case. The EEOC's letter urged Edelman to set up an interview "as soon as possible because a charge of discrimination must be filed within the time limits imposed by law[.]"

On February 17, 1998, the EEOC sent Edelman an appointment notice advising him that his interview was scheduled for March 3, 1998. The interview was conducted as scheduled. On March 18, 1998, the EEOC mailed a draft charge to Edelman for his signature. Edelman's verified charge of discrimination was filed with the EEOC on April 15, 1998 -- 313 days after the date of alleged discrimination.

The EEOC did not assign a number to Edelman's case until after it received his verified charge. Approximately one week later, the EEOC forwarded the charge to both Lynchburg College and the Virginia Council of Human Rights ("VCHR"), the state agency authorized to seek relief from unlawful employment practices. After completing its investigation, the EEOC issued Edelman a right-to-sue letter on March 26, 1999.

Edelman initially filed this action in state court, alleging state law claims of wrongful termination, breach of contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Lynchburg College removed the action to federal court after Edelman amended his complaint to assert a cause of action under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e through 2000e17. Lynchburg College then moved for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because the district court concluded that Edelman failed to timely file his charge of discrimination, it granted Lynchburg College's motion, dismissed the Title VII claim, and remanded Edelman's remaining claims to state court. Edelman timely appeals.


We review de novo a district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). See Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999).

In order to assert a Title VII claim in federal court, a plaintiff must first exhaust his administrative remedies by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. See Taylor v. Virginia Union Univ., 193 F.3d 219, 239 (4th Cir. 1999). Title VII establishes two potential limitations periods within which the discrimination charge must be filed with the EEOC. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); see also Tinsley v. First Union National Bank, 155 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 1998). The basic limitations period is 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). The limitations period is extended to 300 days, however, in "deferral states." See id. § 2000e-5(e)(1).

A "deferral state" is one which has a state law "prohibiting the unlawful employment practice alleged" and a state or local agency authorized "to grant or seek relief" from the practice. See id. § 2000e5(c). Virginia is a "deferral state." See Tinsley, 155 F.3d at 440. Accordingly, the 300-day limitations period applies to Edelman's Title VII claim.


Edelman argues that the district court erred in dismissing his Title VII claim because his April 15, 1998 charge of discrimination related back to his November 14, 1997 letter and was thus timely filed within 300 days of June 6, 1997, the date of the alleged discrimination. Title VII states that charges of discrimination "shall be in writing under oath or affirmation and shall contain such information and be in such form as the Commission requires." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b). The relevant EEOC regulation states that "a charge is sufficient when the Commission receives from the person making the charge a written statement sufficiently precise to identify the parties, and to describe generally the action or practices complained of." 29 C.F.R. § 1601.12(b).

Edelman's letter was mailed to the EEOC within 300 days and sufficiently identified the parties and the alleged discriminatory action. However, the letter was not sworn to under oath or affirmation. Nevertheless, Edelman relies on the second sentence of the regulation, which provides that "[a] charge may be amended to cure technical defects or omissions, including the failure to verify the charge, or to clarify or amplify allegations made therein. Such amendments . . . will relate back to the date the charge was first received." Id.

The parties agree that if the regulation is applied to Edelman's discrimination charge, the sworn-but-untimely charge relates back to his unsworn-but-timely letter and is thus timely filed. The parties disagree, however, as to whether the regulation may be so applied.

In order to answer this question, we must carefully consider the relationship between the regulation (Section 1601.12(b)) and the statute (Title VII, specifically 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) and 2000e-5(e)(1)). We begin with the framework established by the Supreme Court in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984):

First, always, is the question whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Con gress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress. If, however, the court deter mines Congress has not directly addressed the precise ques tion at issue, the court does not simply impose its own construction on the statute, as would be necessary in the absence of an administrative interpretation. Rather, if the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.

Id. at 842-43.

In Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337 (1997), the Court considered the Chevron framework in the specific context of Title VII. The Court made clear the standard by which we are guided:

Our first step in interpreting a statute is to determine whether the language at issue has a plain and unambiguous meaning with regard to the particular dispute in the case. Our inquiry must cease if the statutory language is unambig uous and "the statutory scheme is coherent and consistent."

Id. at 340 (quoting United States v. Ron Pair Enters., Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 240 (1989)).

Step one of the Chevron analysis, as confirmed by Robinson, requires us to determine whether Congress has expressed its intent with...

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