Edelman v. Lynchburg College

PETITIONER: Edelman
RESPONDENT: Lynchburg College
LOCATION: Los Angeles City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 00-1072
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 535 US 106 (2002)
ARGUED: Jan 08, 2002
DECIDED: Mar 19, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Alexander W. Bell - argued the cause for respondent
Eric Schnapper - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Lisa S. Blatt - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that a charge of employment discrimination be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) "within [a specified number of] days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." An EEOC regulation permits an otherwise timely filer to verify a charge after the time for filing has expired. In November 1997, Leonard Edelman faxed a letter to the EEOC, claiming that Lynchburg College had subjected him to gender-based, national origin, and religious discrimination after it denied him tenure. The EEOC informed Edelman of the 300-day time limit and sent him a Form 5 Charge of Discrimination, which he returned 313 days after he was denied tenure. The District Court dismissed the Title VII complaint, finding that the letter was not a charge under Title VII because neither Edelman nor the EEOC treated it as one. In affirming, the Court of Appeals concluded that because a charge requires verification and must be filed within the limitations period, it follows that a charge must be verified within that period.

Question

Is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's regulation, which permits the verification of a timely filed discrimination charge after the limitations period, valid?

Media for Edelman v. Lynchburg College

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 08, 2002 in Edelman v. Lynchburg College

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 19, 2002 in Edelman v. Lynchburg College

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court No. 00-1072, Edelman against Lynchburg College will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

In November of 1997, the petitioner Leonard Edelman faxed a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that the Respondent, Lynchburg College had discriminated against him on the basis of gender, national origin, and religion.

The letter was not signed under oath and it was only after the statutory 300-day period for filing complaints under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that Edelman sent the EEOC one of its Forms No. 5 charging discrimination verified under oath.

The EEOC investigated the claim and issued Edelman a right to sue letter.

Edelman filed an action in State Court which the college moved to the Federal Court after Edelman amended his complaint to a certain cause of action under Title VII.

The College then filed a motion to dismiss the action because Edelman had not filed the charge with the EEOC within the 300-day period.

The District Court granted the motion to dismiss finding that Edelman’s unsworn November 1997 letter was not intended to bay nor was it treated as a charge within the meaning of Title VII.

The District Court did not passed on Edelman’s argument that his November 1997 letter was a timely charge file that even without an oath and that under the EEOC regulations the oath verifying the Form 5 related back to the original letter.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The majority held that Edelman had not filed with the EEOC in time because the letter he filed within the 300-day period was not signed under oath.

The panel held that the plain language of the statute foreclose the EEOC regulation allowing a later oath to relate back to an earlier charge.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk of the Court, we reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Section 706 of the Civil Rights Act requires a complainant to file what the Act calls a charge with EEOC within a certain time after the occurrences of an unlawful employment practice.

In a separate provision, the statute requires the complainant to affirm or swear that the allegations are true.

Neither these two provisions defines what a charge is and the term is likewise undefined elsewhere in the statute.

Neither provision incorporates the other so as to define charge by necessary implication as a charge under oath.

The term charge is therefore open to interpretation.

We think that that EEOC regulation allowing a later oath to relate back to an earlier charge is consistent not only with the purposes of Title VII but also with background legal principles.

Because we find the EEOC regulation to be not only a reasonable one but also the position we would adapt in the absence of any agency statement, we do not resolve any question of what deferences do to the agencies procedural rules.

In upholding the EEOC regulation we do not reach the conclusion drawn by the District Court and the single judge in the Court of Appeals, that quite apart from the oath issue, Edelman’s November 1997 letter was not a charge under the statute because neither he nor the EEOC treated it as one.

There is at least some support in the record for this view and we accordingly remand the case to the Court of Appeals to consider it.

Justice Thomas has filed a concurring opinion and Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment which Justice Scalia has joined.