Harter v. GAF Corp., 91-5754

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Citation967 F.2d 846
Docket NumberNo. 91-5754,91-5754
Parties59 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 241, 59 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 41,554, 61 USLW 2006 Alfred F. HARTER, Appellant, v. GAF CORPORATION.
Decision Date16 June 1992

Page 846

967 F.2d 846
59 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 241,
59 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 41,554, 61 USLW 2006
Alfred F. HARTER, Appellant,
v.
GAF CORPORATION.
No. 91-5754.
United States Court of Appeals,
Third Circuit.
Argued May 4, 1992.
Decided June 16, 1992.

Page 847

John A. Craner (argued), Craner, Nelson, Satkin & Scheer, Scotch Plains, N.J., for appellant.

Patrick G. Brady (argued), Francis X. Dee, Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, Newark, N.J., for appellee.

Before: BECKER, NYGAARD and HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

NYGAARD, Circuit Judge.

On January 15, 1986, Alfred F. Harter was terminated from his employment as an engineer with GAF Corporation. On March 7, 1986 he filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, alleging that GAF unlawfully terminated his employment because of his age. NJDCR filed an age discrimination complaint on his behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On September 20, 1988, although the NJDCR had not made its final determination on his complaint, Harter sued in the United States District Court, alleging that GAF Corporation violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 to 634 (1985 & Supp.1991) ("ADEA"), by terminating him because of his age. The district court dismissed his complaint on the ground that his suit against GAF was untimely under 29 U.S.C. § 626(e) because it was filed more than two years after the alleged discriminatory act against him. The principal issue on appeal is whether the Age Discrimination Claims Assistance Act, 29 U.S.C. § 626 note, (West 1985 & Supp.1991), Pub.L. 100-283, 102 Stat. 78, (April 7, 1988), as amended, Pub.L. 101-504, § 2, 104 Stat. 1298 (November 3, 1990) ("Claims Assistance Act") extended the applicable time limitation on Harter's claims. We conclude that it does and will reverse the district court's order in part, affirm in part, and remand.

I.

This is the second time Harter has appealed a decision of the district court, although he has yet to be heard on the merits of his claim. GAF moved under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, contending that Harter's claim should be summarily dismissed for two reasons. First, GAF contended that

Page 848

the federal common law of res judicata and/or collateral estoppel barred Harter's actions under the ADEA because an administrative determination by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights found no probable cause to believe that Harter had been discriminated against because of his age. GAF also moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the suit was untimely under 29 U.S.C. § 626(e), 1 because it was filed more than two years after the alleged discriminatory act. GAF also argues that, as a matter of law, the three year period of limitations for willful termination should not apply.

The district court in November 1990 dismissed the complaint solely on grounds of claim and issue preclusion. The district court did not reach the statute of limitations issues. We reversed and remanded the cause to the district court, Harter v. GAF Corp., 941 F.2d 1201 (3d Cir.1991), which considered the previously undecided statute of limitations issues and again granted summary judgment and dismissed the complaint.

II.

Once again, we do not reach the merits of Harter's age discrimination claim. The issue before us is a question of law, that is, whether Harter's complaint is saved by the Age Discrimination Claims Assistance Act of 1988. The Claims Assistance Act was enacted because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission admitted that it had failed to act on numerous age discrimination claims, and the two-year statute of limitations had run while the innocent charging parties awaited agency action. See generally, Eglit, 3 Age Discrimination § 17.26A (Supp. March 1992). The Claims Assistance Act provides that for a period of 540 days 2 following enactment, April 7, 1988, individuals who filed timely actions with the EEOC could still sue. Id. Thus, they were given until September 30, 1989 (July 2, 1989 under the 1990 Act) to file age discrimination suits in federal court. Id. The Claims Assistance Act also provides that the EEOC will give notice to the affected parties of their right to bring or maintain their suits. Claims Assistance Act, § 4.

The relevant section of the Claims Assistance Act provides, in part:

Sec. 3. Extension of Statute of Limitations.

Notwithstanding section 7(e) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. 626(e)), a civil action may be brought under section 7 of such Act by the Commission or aggrieved person, during the 540-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this act if--

(1) with respect to the alleged unlawful practice on which the claim in such civil action is based, a charge was timely filed under such Act with the Commission after December 31, 1983,

(2) the Commission did not, within the applicable period set forth in section 7(e) either--

(A) eliminate such alleged unlawful practice by informal methods of conciliation, conference, and persuasion, or

(B) notify such person, in writing, of the disposition of such charge and of the right of such person to bring a civil action on such claim,

(3) the statute of limitations applicable under such section 7(e) to such claim ran

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before the date of enactment of this Act, and

(4) a civil action on such claim was not brought by the Commission or such person before the running of the statute of limitations.

Claims Assistance Act, § 3(a) (emphasis added).

Harter's civil suit was filed two years and eight months after the alleged discriminatory act. GAF argues that the complaint should be dismissed as time barred under the statute of limitations. Harter concedes that his action was not timely under ADEA's two-year statute of limitations provision for non-willful violations. Nevertheless, Harter argues that he should get the benefit of the extended statute of limitations under the Claims Assistance Act. Harter filed this action within the 540 days after April 7, 1988--on September 20, 1988.

Harter's claim for age discrimination clearly satisfies three of the four conditions required to extend the statute of limitations under the Claims Assistance Act. See generally, Larson, 3A Employment Discrimination § 102.33 (1975 & Supp.1991). First, Harter's charge was filed with the EEOC after December 31, 1983. Claims Assistance Act § 3(a)(1)(A). Second, the two-year limitations period for a non-willful violation expired on January 15, 1988, before the effective date of the Claims Assistance Act, April 7, 1988. Claims Assistance Act § 3(a)(3)(A). And third, a civil action had not been filed by Harter or the EEOC before the two-year limitations period expired. Claims Assistance Act § 3(a)(4).

The key question is whether the EEOC notified Harter "in writing, of the disposition of such charge and of the right of such person to bring a civil action on such claim." Claims Assistance Act § 3(a)(2)(B).

Harter received a notice from the EEOC on June 4, 1986. The notice told him, in pertinent part:

Your above-referenced charge of age discrimination has been sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by the State Agency noted above. This action was done in order to preserve your rights to file suit in Federal Court under the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC, however, will take no further action whatsoever as far as the processing of your charge is concerned. Instead, you should continue to cooperate with the state agency in its investigation of your complaint.

App. at 295 (emphasis added). This letter also notified Harter of his right to file a civil action and...

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