486 U. S. 107
May 16, 1988
After a discriminatory event, you have 300 days to file with the EEOC, provided that you first file with a state agency, and 60 days pass after that filing (unless the state agency terminates proceedings first). Suanne Leerssen filed with a Colorado agency 290 days after the alleged discriminatory event. The Colorado agency waived the 60 day waiting period to let the EEOC step in immediately. The company alleged to have discriminated against Leerssen said that the Colorado agency had not “terminated” its proceedings, and that the law dis not permit waiver of the 60 day period. Thus, since 290 plus 60 goes way past 300, the EEOC could not investigate the claim.
The Court ruled 5-3 that Leerssen’s complaint was within the EEOC’s 300 day limit (Kennedy did not participate). Marshall said that the word “terminate” was ambiguous, and that a waiver could certainly qualify as a termination. He thought it would be silly to make the 300 day limit effectively a 240 day limit, especially when the law wanted the EEOC and state agencies to work together, and allocate cases efficiently. Waivers, though not specifically provided for in the law, were a good means of helping this cooperation. Finally, Marshall was unimpressed that Leerssen’s filing was not timely under Colorado law (which had a 180 day limit). The EEOC, he said, need not care about state deadlines when figuring out its own 300 day deadline.
O’Connor joined much of Marshall’s opinion, but based her concurrence in judgment solely on the fact that the EEOC interpreted the waiver as valid. Had the EEOC not recognized the waiver, she would have deferred to that interpretation too. Stevens, joined by Rehnquist and Scalia, dissented. He contended that a waiver was not a “termination” simply as a matter of plain language. I’m not sure I agree though. I’d probably go with Marshall on this one – his opinion is certainly far closer to the spirit of the law.