Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans
441 U.S. 750 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans, 441 U.S. 750 (1979)

Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans

No. 78-275

Argued February 28, 1979

Decided May 21, 1979

441 U.S. 750

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

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. 441 U. S. 754-758.

(a) Since the ADEA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Page 441 U. S. 751

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. 441 U. S. 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. 441 U. S. 756-758.

2. However, a grievant is not required by § 14(b) to commence state proceedings within time limits specified by state law. Pp. 441 U. S. 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. 441 U. S. 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.

Page 441 U. S. 752

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. 441 U. S. 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. 441 U. S. 764-765.

580 F.2d 298, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in all but Part III of which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 441 U. S. 765. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 441 U. S. 767.

Page 441 U. S. 753

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

Page 441 U. S. 754

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. [Footnote 1] 580 F.2d 298 (1978). We granted certiorari, 439 U.S. 925 (1978). We reverse.

II

Petitioners argue that § 14(b) mandates that in States with agencies empowered to remedy age discrimination in employment (deferral States) a grievant may not bring suit

Page 441 U. S. 755

under the ADEA unless he has first commenced a proceeding with the appropriate state agency. Respondent, on the other hand, argues that the grievant has the option of whether to resort to state proceedings, and that § 14(b) requires only that grievants choosing to resort to state remedies wait 60 days before bringing suit in federal court. The question of construction is close, but we conclude that petitioners are correct.

Section 14(b) of the ADEA was patterned after and is virtually in haec verba with § 706(c) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (formerly § 706(b)), 78 Stat. 259, as redesignated, 86 Stat. 104, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c). [Footnote 2] The relevant portion of § 706(c) reads as follows:

"In the case of an alleged unlawful employment practice occurring in a State, . . . which has a . . . law prohibiting the unlawful employment practice alleged and establishing or authorizing a State . . . authority to grant or seek relief from such practice . . no charge may be filed . . . by the person aggrieved before the expiration of sixty days after proceedings have been commenced under the State . . . law, unless such proceedings have been earlier terminated. . . ."

Congress intended through § 706(c) to screen from the federal courts those problems of civil rights that could be settled to the satisfaction of the grievant in "a voluntary and localized manner." See 110 Cong.Rec. 12725 (1964) (remarks of Sen. Humphrey). The section is intended to give state agencies a limited opportunity to resolve problems of employment discrimination, and thereby to make unnecessary resort to federal relief by victims of the discrimination. See Voutsis v. Union Carbide Corp., 452 F.2d 889 (CA2 1971).

Page 441 U. S. 756

Because state agencies cannot even attempt to resolve discrimination complaints not brought to their attention, the section has been interpreted to require individuals in deferral States to resort to appropriate state proceedings before bringing suit under Title VII. See Love v. Pullman Co.,404 U. S. 522 (1972); Olson v. Rembrandt Printing Co., 511 F.2d 1228 (CA8 1975). [Footnote 3]

Since the ADEA and Title VII share a common purpose, the elimination of discrimination in the workplace, since the language of § 14(b) is almost in haec verba with § 706(c), and since the legislative history of § 14(b) indicates that its source was § 706(c), we may properly conclude that Congress intended that the construction of § 14(b) should follow that of § 706(c). See Northcross v. Memphis Board of Education,412 U. S. 427, 412 U. S. 428 (1973). We therefore conclude that § 14(b), like § 706(c), is intended to screen from the federal courts those discrimination complaints that might be settled to the satisfaction of the grievant in state proceedings. We further conclude that prior resort to appropriate state proceedings is required under § 14(b), just as under § 706(c).

The contrary arguments advanced by respondent in support of construing § 14(b) as merely optional are not persuasive. Respondent notes first that, under Title VII, persons aggrieved must file with a state antidiscrimination agency before filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c). Under the ADEA, by contrast, grievants may file with state and federal agencies simultaneously. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 626(d) and 633(b). [Footnote 4] From this respondent concludes that the ADEA pays less deference to state agencies, and that, as a consequence, ADEA claimants have the option to ignore state remedies.

Page 441 U. S. 757

We disagree. The ADEA permits concurrent, rather than sequential, state and federal administrative jurisdiction in order to expedite the processing of age discrimination claims. The premise for this difference is that the delay inherent in sequential jurisdiction is particularly prejudicial to the rights of "older citizens to whom, by definition, relatively few productive years are left." 113 Cong.Rec. 7076 (197) (remarks of Sen. Javits).

The purpose of expeditious disposition would not be frustrated were ADEA claimants required to pursue state and federal administrative remedies simultaneously. Indeed, simultaneous state and federal conciliation efforts may well facilitate rapid settlements. There is no reason to conclude, therefore, that the possibility of concurrent state and federal cognizance supports the construction of § 14(b) that ADEA grievants may ignore state remedies altogether.

Respondent notes a second difference between the ADEA and Title VII. Section 14(a) of the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 633(a), for which Title VII has no counterpart, provides that, upon commencement of an action under ADEA, all state proceedings are superseded. From this, respondent concludes that it would be an exercise in futility to require aggrieved persons to file state complaints, since those persons may, after only 60 days, abort their involuntary state proceeding by filing a federal suit.

We find no merit in the argument. Unless § 14(b) is to be stripped of all meaning, state agencies must be given at least some opportunity to solve problems of discrimination. While 60 days provides a limited time for the state agency to act, that was a decision for Congress to make, and Congress apparently thought it sufficient. As Senator Dirksen told the Senate during the debates on § 14(b)'s predecessor, § 706(c) of Title VII:

"[A]t the local level . . . many cases are disposed of in a matter of days, and certainly not more than a few weeks.

Page 441 U. S. 758

In the case of California, FEPC cases are disposed of in an average of about 5 days. In my own State, it is approximately 14 days."

110 Cong.Rec. 13087 (1964).

Respondent argues finally that a Committee Report that accompanied 1978 ADEA amendments supports his construction of § 14(b). [Footnote 5] This Committee Report suggested that resort to state remedies should be optional under § 14(b). See S.Rep. No. 95-493, pp. 6-7 (1978), adopted in Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference, H.R.Conf.Rep. No 9950, pp. 7, 12 (1978).

We are not persuaded. Senate Report No. 95-493 was written 11 years after the ADEA was passed in 1967, and such "[l]egislative observations . . . are in no sense part of the legislative history." United Airlines, Inc. v. McMann,434 U. S. 192, 434 U. S. 200 n. 7 (1977). "It is the intent of the Congress that enacted [the section] . . . that controls." Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324, 431 U. S. 354 n. 39 (1977). Whatever evidence is provided by the 1978 Committee Report of the intent of Congress in 1967, it is plainly insufficient to overcome the clear and convincing evidence that Congress intended § 14(b) to have the same meaning as § 706(c). We therefore hold that, under § 14(b) of the ADEA, as under § 706(c) of Title VII, resort to administrative remedies in deferral States by individual claimants is mandatory, not optional. [Footnote 6]

III

We consider now the consequences of respondent's failure to file a complaint with the Iowa State Civil Rights Commission. Petitioners argue that, since Iowa's 120-day age discrimination

Page 441 U. S. 759

statute of limitations has run, see Iowa Code §§ 601A.14(1), (15) (1975), it is now too late for respondent to remedy his procedural omission, and that respondent's federal action is therefore jurisdictionally barred. Respondent pleads that, since his failure to file was due to incorrect advice by the Department of Labor, his tardiness should be excused.

Both arguments miss the mark. Neither questions of jurisdiction nor questions of excuse arise unless Congress mandated that resort to state proceedings must be within time limits specified by the State. We do not construe § 14(b) to make that requirement. Section 14(b) requires only that the grievant commence state proceedings. Nothing whatever in the section requires the respondent here to commence those proceedings within the 120 days allotted by Iowa law in order to preserve a right of action under § 7(c).

We start with the language of the section. Section 14(b) provides, in relevant part, that

"no suit may be brought . . . before the expiration of sixty days after proceedings have been commenced under the State law, unless such proceedings have been earlier terminated."

29 U.S.C. § 633(b) (emphasis added). By its terms, then, the section requires only that state proceedings be commenced 60 days before federal litigation is instituted; besides commencement, no other obligation is placed upon the ADEA grievant. In particular, there is no requirement that, in order to commence state proceedings and thereby preserve federal rights, the grievant must file with the State within whatever time limits are specified by state law. Rather, use of the word "commenced" strongly implies the opposite -- that state limitations periods are irrelevant -- since, by way of analogy, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, even a time-barred action may be "commenced" by the filing of a complaint. See Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 3; Malotti v. Ford Motor Co., 418 F.Supp. 430, 434 (ED Mich.1976).

Page 441 U. S. 760

This implication is made express by the last sentence of § 14(b), which specifically provides:

"If 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."

29 U.S.C. § 633(b). State limitations periods are, of course, requirements "other than a requirement of the filing of a written and signed statement of the facts upon which the proceeding is based." Therefore, even if a State were to make timeliness a precondition for commencement, rather than follow the more typical pattern of making untimeliness an affirmative defense, a state proceeding will be deemed commenced for purposes of § 14(b) as soon as the complaint is filed.

This has been the prevailing interpretation of § 14(b). See Nickel v. Shatterproof Class Corp., 424 F.Supp. 884 (ED Mich.1976); Magalotti v. Ford Motor Co., supra. [Footnote 7] It is also the prevailing interpretation of § 14(b)'s counterpart, § 706(c) of Title VII, which contains an identical definition of commencement. See Davis v. Valley Distributing Co., 522 F.2d 827, 831-833 (CA9 1975), cert. denied, 429

Page 441 U. S. 761

U.S. 1090 (1977); Olson v. Rembrandt Printing Co., 511 F.2d at 1232; Pinckney v. County of Northampton, 433 F.Supp. 373, 376 n. 1 (ED Pa.1976); McAdams v. Thermal Industries, Inc., 428 F.Supp. 156, 161 (WD la.1977); De Gideo v. Sperry-Univac Co., 415 F.Supp. 227, 229 (ED Pa.1976); see also White v. Dallas Independent School Dist., 581 F.2d 556, 562 n. 10 (CA5 1978) (en banc) (filing with EEOC tolls state limitations period for federal purposes); Ferguson v. Kroger Co., 545 F.2d 1034 (CA6 1976) (EEOC's negligent failure to refer charge to state agency within state limitations period does not foreclose federal claim). But see Richardson v. Miller, 446 F.2d 1247 (CA3 1971).

It is also the EEOC's interpretation of § 706(c), see Case No. KC7-5-315, CCH EEOC Decisions (1973)

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