Walters v. Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc.

PETITIONER: Walters
RESPONDENT: Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc.
LOCATION: New York Board of Education Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 95-259
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 519 US 202 (1997)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1996
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1997

ADVOCATES:
Constantine John Gekas - Argued the cause for petitioner Walters
Patrick J. Falahee, Jr. - Argued the cause for the respondents
Seth P. Waxman - Department of Justice, argued the cause of the petitioner EEOC

Facts of the case

In 1990, Darlene Walters was fired by Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc. (Metropolitan). Soon thereafter, Walters filed an employment discrimination charge against Metropolitan under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC sued Metropolitan alleging that the firing violated Title VII's anti-retaliation provision. Metropolitan filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, claiming that it was not an "employer" covered by Title VII because, at the time of the alleged retaliation, it was not "a person . . . who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year." The parties stipulated that Metropolitan failed to satisfy the 15-employee threshold in 1989; that, during most of 1990, it had between 15 and 17 employees on its payroll on each working day; and that, during 1990, there were only nine weeks in which it was actually compensating 15 or more employees on each working day. The District Court dismissed the case. It reasoned that employees may be counted for Title VII purposes only on days on which they actually performed work or were being compensated despite their absence as opposed to any working day on which the employer maintains an employment relationship with the employee. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Does an employer "have" an employee on any working day on which the employer maintains an employment relationship with the employee as pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Media for Walters v. Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1996 in Walters v. Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 95-259.

Darlene Walters v. Metropolitan Educational Enterprises, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. the same.

Mr. Gekas.

Constantine John Gekas:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves the construction of Section 701(b) of Title VII, which defines the term 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any... any agent of such person.

We seek review of the holding of the Seventh Circuit in this case, which was that the words, "for each working day", can only be construed to have meaning under a test that counts employees only on the days that they are present at work or on the days that they are on paid leave, except for salaried employees.

And for salaried employees, the Seventh Circuit said it makes no difference where they are, what they're doing or how they're paid.

We believe that this is wrong for several reasons.

First of all, because the plain text of the statute focuses on the orgoing employment relationship.

Second of all, because the suggestion of the Seventh Circuit and all the other courts which have considered the... the meaning of the phrase, "for each working day", they are wrong when they say that only this day-by-day method gives that phrase meaning.

And, thirdly, because if the text is ambiguous... and there is some suggestion, just because of the stark split in the courts on this, that perhaps the statute is ambiguous... that the legislative history and the purpose intent of Congress, the policy underlying Title VII, and the EEOC's own administrative interpretation of the... of the statute and those words favor the payroll method--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Waxman, what would be an example of the kind of a person... the... the kind of job they held... who was counted under your view but not counted under the Seventy Circuit's view?

Constantine John Gekas:

--Well, under our view, all employees who have an ongoing employment relationship would be counted.

Under the Seventh Circuit's test, a part-time employee, for example, who works 4 days out of the week, but not the fifth day... assuming a Monday to Friday workweek... would not be counted on a Friday.

With this case, we have assumed ourselves past the problem of defining the term "workday" or "workweek", and we've basically focused on the question of whether or not there is a necessity to focus on whether or not someone's at work or not.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, what if the employee is... shows up for work one day a month to do some accounting work and, therefore, is kept on the employer's so-called overall list of employees to do this stuff one day a month... that's enough--

Constantine John Gekas:

Yes, it is, because the--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--to count for the whole month?

Constantine John Gekas:

--That's right.

Because there's an ongoing employment relationship.

We submit that it's--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, what if the person is listed, hasn't been taken off the computer base, but in fact hasn't done any work for, let's say, 4 months; do we count that person for the 4 months?

Constantine John Gekas:

--Well, Your Honor, I think that that focuses on the question of whether or not, during the time that the person is not there, that person is an employee.

There is a body of law, both from this Court... Darden and Reid and the recent decision last year, NLRB against Town & Country, that sets forth a set of criteria having to do with control.

And I would submit that, in that circumstance, where there's ambiguity because of some long period of time for which the employee is not present, that the courts would look really at the... at the circumstance of the employee under those tests of employment control... presence at work is one of them... and it doesn't really present, in our view... that hypothetical doesn't really present, in our view, the issue that's presented in this case.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But there are some questions?

Constantine John Gekas:

Yes, it's questions, but question--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you completely endorse the Department of Labor's regulations, adopting the payroll method for the Family Leave Act?

Constantine John Gekas:

--Yes, we have, generally.

Do we completely endorse... endorse it?