Oscar Mayer Co v. Evans

Citation99 S.Ct. 2066,441 U.S. 750,60 L.Ed.2d 609
Decision Date21 May 1979
Docket NumberNo. 78-275,78-275
PartiesOSCAR MAYER & CO. et al., Petitioners, v. Joseph W. EVANS
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Section 14(b) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) provides that in the case of an alleged unlawful practice occurring in a State which has a law prohibiting discrimination in employment because of age and authorizing a state authority to grant and seek relief from such discriminatory practice, no suit may be brought under § 7(c) of the ADEA before the expiration of 60 days after proceedings have been commenced under the state law, unless such proceedings have been earlier terminated. Section 14(b) also provides that if any requirement for the commencement of such proceedings is imposed by a state authority other than a requirement of a filing of a written and signed statement of the facts upon which the proceeding is based, the proceeding shall be deemed to have been commenced for the purposes of § 14(b) at the time such statement is sent by registered mail to the appropriate state authority. Respondent, who had been involuntarily retired after 23 years of employment by petitioner company, filed with the United States Department of Labor a notice of intent to sue the company under the ADEA, charging that he had been forced to retire because of his age in violation of the Act. Upon respondent's inquiry, the Department informed him that the ADEA contained no requirement that he file a state complaint in order to preserve his federal rights. After federal conciliation efforts failed, respondent brought suit against petitioner company and company officials in Federal District Court, which denied petitioners' motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the Iowa State Civil Rights Commission was empowered to remedy age discrimination in employment and that § 14(b) required resort to this state remedy prior to the commencement of the federal suit. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Under § 14(b), resort to administrative remedies by claimants in States with agencies empowered to remedy age discrimination in employment (deferral States) is mandatory, not optional, and federal suit may not be brought under the ADEA unless the claimant has first commenced a proceeding with the appropriate state agency. Pp. 754-758.

(a) Since the ADEA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 share the common purpose of the elimination of discrimination in the workplace, since the language of § 14(b) is almost in haec verba with § 706(c) of Title VII, which has been interpreted to require individuals in deferral States to resort to appropriate state proceedings before bringing suit under Title VII, and since the legislative history of § 14(b) indicates that its source was § 706(c), it may be properly concluded that Congress intended that the construction of § 14(b) should follow that of § 706(c). Pp. 755-756.

(b) Claimants do not have the option to ignore state remedies merely because under the ADEA, unlike Title VII, they may file with state and federal agencies simultaneously. The ADEA permits concurrent rather than sequential state and federal administrative jurisdiction in order to expedite the processing and settling of age-discrimination claims, and thus the possibility of concurrent state and federal cognizance does not support the construction of § 14(b) that ADEA grievants may ignore state remedies altogether. A Committee Report accompanying 1978 ADEA amendments which suggested that resort to state remedies should be optional under § 14(b) is insufficient to overcome the clear and convincing evidence that Congress, in 1967, intended § 14(b) to have the same meaning as § 706(c). Pp. 756-758.

2. However, a grievant is not required by § 14(b) to commence state proceedings within time limits specified by state law. Pp. 758-764.

(a) By its terms, § 14(b) requires only that state proceedings be "commenced" 60 days before federal litigation is instituted, and use of the word "commenced" strongly implies that state limitations periods are irrelevant. This implication is made express by the provision in § 14(b) that if a state authority imposes requirements "other than a requirement of the filing of a written and signed statement of the facts upon which the proceeding is based," the proceeding shall be deemed to have been commenced for purposes of § 14(b) at the time such statement is sent by registered mail to the appropriate state authority. State limitations periods are requirements other than that specified in § 14(b) and, thus, even if a State were to make timeliness a precondition for commencement, a state proceeding will be deemed commenced for purposes of § 14(b) as soon as the complaint is filed. Pp. 759-760.

(b) This construction of the statute is consistent both with the ADEA's remedial purposes and with the purposes of § 14(b), which does not stipulate an exhaustion requirement, but is intended only to give state agencies a limited opportunity to settle the grievances of ADEA claimants in a voluntary and localized manner so that the grievants thereafter have no need or desire for independent federal relief. The ADEA's structure—setting forth limitations periods in explicit terms in §§ 7(d) and (e), not § 14(b)—reinforces the conclusion that state procedural defaults cannot foreclose federal relief and that state limitations periods cannot govern the efficacy of the federal remedy. Pp. 761-764.

3. Even though Iowa's 120-day statute of limitations has run, respondent may yet comply with the requirements of § 14(b) by simply filing a signed complaint with the Iowa State Civil Rights Commission. That Commission must be given an opportunity to entertain respondent's grievance before his federal litigation can continue. Meanwhile the federal suit should be held in abeyance, rather than be dismissed with leave to refile, because respondent has already filed a timely federal complaint and to require a second filing would serve no purpose other than the creation of an additional procedural technicality. If respondent's state complaint is subsequently dismissed as untimely, he may then return to federal court; but until that happens, or until 60 days have passed without a settlement, respondent must pursue his state remedy. Pp. 764-765.

580 F.2d 298, reversed and remanded.

James W. Gladden, Jr., Chicago, Ill., for petitioners.

Allan A. Ryan, Jr., Washington, D. C., for the U. S., as amicus curiae, supporting respondent, by special leave of Court.

Mark W. Bennett, Des Moines, Iowa, for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 14(b) of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 81 Stat. 607, as set forth in 29 U.S.C. § 633(b), provides in pertinent part:

"In the case of an alleged unlawful practice occurring in a State which has a law prohibiting discrimination in employment because of age and establishing or authorizing a State authority to grant or seek relief from such discriminatory practice, no suit may be brought under section 626 of this title before the expiration of sixty days after proceedings have been commenced under the State law, unless such proceedings have been earlier terminated: Provided, . . . [i]f any requirement for the commencement of such proceedings is imposed by a State authority other than a requirement of the filing of a written and signed statement of the facts upon which the proceeding is based, the proceeding shall be deemed to have been commenced for the purposes of this subsection at the time such statement is sent by registered mail to the appropriate State authority."

This case presents three questions under that section. First, whether § 14(b) requires an aggrieved person to resort to appropriate state remedies before bringing suit under § 7(c) of the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 626(c). Second, if so, whether, the state proceedings must be commenced within time limits specified by state law in order to preserve the federal right of action. Third, if so, whether any circumstances may excuse the failure to commence timely state proceedings.

We hold that § 14(b) mandates that a grievant not bring suit in federal court under § 7(c) of the ADEA until he has first resorted to appropriate state administrative proceedings. We also hold, however, that the grievant is not required by § 14(b) to commence the state proceedings within time limits specified by state law. In light of these holdings, it is not necessary to address the question of the circumstances, if any, in which failure to comply with § 14(b) may be excused.

I

Respondent Joseph Evans was employed by petitioner Oscar Mayer & Co. for 23 years until his involuntary retirement in January 1976. On March 10, 1976, respondent filed with the United States Department of Labor a notice of intent to sue the company under the ADEA. Respondent charged that he had been forced to retire because of his age in violation of the Act. At approximately this time respondent inquired of the Department whether he was obliged to file a state complaint in order to preserve his federal rights. The Department informed respondent that the ADEA contained no such requirement. Relying on this official advice, respondent refrained from resorting to state proceedings. On March 7, 1977, after federal conciliation efforts had failed, respondent brought suit against petitioner company and company officials in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

Petitioners moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the Iowa State Civil Rights Commission was empowered to remedy age discrimination in employment and that § 14(b) required resort to this state remedy prior to the commencement of the federal suit. The District Court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed.1 580 F.2d 298 (1978). We granted certiorari, 439 U.S. 925, 99 S.Ct. 308, 58 L.Ed.2d 318 (1978)....

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