White v. Bfi Waste Services, LLC

Decision Date14 July 2004
Docket NumberNo. 03-1833.,No. 03-2020.,03-1833.,03-2020.
Citation375 F.3d 288
PartiesArnold WHITE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BFI WASTE SERVICES, LLC, Defendant-Appellee. Delbert Gaskins, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BFI Waste Services, LLC, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Christopher Edwin Brown, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellants. Abbey Gail Hairston, Seyfarth Shaw, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Edwin C. Brown, Jr., Brown, Brown & Brown, P.C., Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellants. Christina S. Pignatelli, Seyfarth Shaw, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before LUTTIG and KING, Circuit Judges, and BEEZER, Senior Circuit Judge of the United States Court of

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded by published opinion. Judge LUTTIG wrote the opinion, in which Judge KING and Senior Judge BEEZER joined.

LUTTIG, Circuit Judge:

Appellants Delbert Gaskins and Arnold White, who are black, are employed as "roll-off" drivers for defendant-appellee BFI Waste Services (BFI). Appellants' jobs primarily entail picking up the refuse containers of BFI's clients, emptying the containers at one of several dump sites, and returning the containers to the clients.

In actions below that were brought separately but by the same attorneys, Gaskins and White both sued BFI, raising claims of racial discrimination in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. In particular, appellants claimed that they were subjected to discriminatory treatment in compensation because supervisors repeatedly cut their "pay codes" and the codes of other black employees, meaning that appellants received less pay per waste-service route than similarly-situated white drivers. Appellants also claimed that frequent use of derogatory terms toward black employees by supervisors created a hostile work environment.

After discovery, the district courts in each of the cases below granted summary judgment to BFI. We affirm these grants of summary judgment with respect to the claims of discrimination in compensation, but reverse with respect to appellants' hostile work environment claims.

I.

At the outset, we address the one respect in which the paths of these two consolidated cases diverged below.

After White filed his complaint, but before the commencement of discovery, the district court in White's case granted BFI's motion to dismiss White's section 1981 claims insofar as they concerned acts which occurred before December 19, 2000, two years prior to the filing of White's complaint in district court. The court also granted BFI's motion to dismiss White's Title VII claims insofar as they concerned acts which occurred before September 6, 2001, 300 days prior to White's filing of an EEOC charge before bringing his employment discrimination claim in the district court. J.A. 17-18. Because White does not contest factual findings made by the district court in granting BFI's motion to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds, but only argues that the district court committed errors of law, we review the district court's grant of BFI's motion to dismiss de novo. See United States v. United Med. & Surgical Supply Corp., 989 F.2d 1390, 1398 (4th Cir.1993).

A.

We turn first to the district court's dismissal of White's section 1981 claims insofar as they were "based upon acts" that occurred two years before White filed his complaint. J.A. 18. In ordering the dismissal of these claims, the district court relied upon this circuit's decision in McCrary v. Runyon, 515 F.2d 1082, 1096-97 (4th Cir.1974), aff'd, 427 U.S. 160, 96 S.Ct. 2586, 49 L.Ed.2d 415 (1976), which held that all section 1981 claims brought in Virginia are subject to the two-year Virginia statute of limitations for personal injury borrowed from Virginia Code § 8.01-243(a). This is no longer the law.

In a decision released less than two months ago, Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., ___ U.S. ___, 124 S.Ct. 1836, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (2004), the Supreme Court held that claims arising under the 1991 amendments to section 1981 are governed by the four-year federal statute of limitations set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1658. Section 1981 claims based upon conduct occurring after the formation of an employment contract, including hostile work environment claims and claims of discrimination in compensation like the ones raised here, arise under the 1991 amendments. Id. at 1840; see also James v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 370 F.3d 417 (4th Cir.2004). Accordingly, White's section 1981 claims are subject to the four-year statute of limitations in section 1658 and are thus timely to the extent they are based upon acts that occurred after December 19, 1998.

Because White's hostile work environment claim is limited to conduct that is alleged to have occurred after this date, see J.A. 12, no portion of that claim is time-barred. Additionally, to the extent White's claims of discrimination in compensation under section 1981 are based on acts that occurred after Dec. 19, 1998 but before Dec. 19, 2000 (the cut-off date that the district court chose), they must also be remanded for further proceedings.

B.

For Title VII claims, with respect to which a plaintiff first must file a charge with the EEOC before bringing suit in district court, a plaintiff can only complain of discrimination that "occurred" within either the 180-day period or the 300-day period immediately preceding the filing of the EEOC charge. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e) (2003). The 300-day period, rather than the 180-day period, applies where, as here, state law also proscribes the alleged employment discrimination and the plaintiff files with a state or local employment discrimination agency either before filing with the EEOC, or concurrently therewith. See id.; see also Tinsley v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 155 F.3d 435, 442 (4th Cir. 1998).

White filed his individual charge of discrimination with the EEOC on July 3, 2002. J.A. 43. Accordingly, at first blush the district court appears to have done nothing more than faithfully follow the applicable rules when it granted BFI's motion to dismiss and thus limited White's Title VII claims to events occurring after September 6, 2001 (300 days prior to the date on which White filed his EEOC charge).

White nonetheless argues that the district court erred in so limiting his Title VII claims, for two reasons. First, White contends, the district court failed to recognize that under the Supreme Court's decision in National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 122 S.Ct. 2061, 153 L.Ed.2d 106 (2002), a hostile work environment claim under Title VII can encompass racially hostile acts that occurred even beyond the applicable limitations period, as long as at least part of the hostile work environment to which those acts contributed took place within the limitation period. Second, White asserts, the district court should have used an earlier EEOC filing in February 2000, and not White's own EEOC filing, as the appropriate reference point for determining the limitations period for White's Title VII claims, because the earlier EEOC charge was filed by White's co-employees and raised substantially similar claims.

1.

The first contention pressed by White is not without force. In Morgan, the Supreme Court held that while a Title VII plaintiff seeking to recover for discrete acts of alleged discrimination may complain only of those acts that occurred within the relevant limitations period, a Title VII plaintiff seeking to recover for a hostile work environment can recover for acts occurring even beyond that period, as long as at least a portion of the hostile work environment occurred within the relevant limitations period. Id. at 122, 122 S.Ct. 2061. The district court, without citing Morgan and seemingly without recognizing its holding, limited all of White's Title VII claims to "acts" occurring after September 6, 2001.

With respect to White's claims of discriminatory pay-code cuts, this ruling was correct. Each such pay-code cut is a discrete act that would be actionable under Title VII by itself, as appellants' counsel conceded at oral argument. See id. at 112, 122 S.Ct. 2061 (citing with approval the Supreme Court's earlier statement in Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U.S. 385, 106 S.Ct. 3000, 92 L.Ed.2d 315 (1986) (per curiam), that with respect to salary discrimination, "each week's paycheck that deliver[s] less to a black than to a similarly situated white is a wrong actionable under Title VII"). And accordingly, under Morgan, White is appropriately barred under Title VII from complaining of any pay-code cut that occurred prior to September 6, 2001.

With respect to White's hostile work environment claim, however, the district court's ruling was incorrect. Under Morgan, this claim may appropriately extend even to acts that occurred before the relevant limitations period, because the hostile work environment continued within the limitations period as well. See id. at 118, 122 S.Ct. 2061. Accordingly, the district court erred in limiting White's hostile work environment claim under Title VII to acts that occurred after September 6, 2001.

2.

White next argues that the district court erred with respect to the date it used to determine the 300-day limitations period for his Title VII claims. According to White, the district court should have used a filing with the EEOC by other employees in February 2000, and not White's own filing with the EEOC in July 2002, as the relevant date, because White's claims are substantially related to those raised in the earlier EEOC charge filed by other employees. We do not agree.

White grounds his attempt to obtain the benefit of the earlier filing date in a doctrine, which has not yet been adopted in this circuit, known as the "single-filing rule." See Appellant's Br. at 19. The "single-filing rule," as applied by those circuits...

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