Tuesday, May 05, 2009, 7:57 AM

4th Circuit Clarifies Limitation Period In EEOC Cases

Yesterday the Fourth Circuit decided when an EEOC decision becomes "final" for the purpose of commencing the 90-day limitation period for filing suit under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). The case is Cochran v. Holder.

The issue arose because the complainant filed a motion for reconsideration with the EEOC. He did file his federal suit within 90 days of denial of his recon motion, but that was more than 90 days after the conclusion of his initial EEOC appeal. The district court interpreted an EEOC regulation to require that the 90-day period begins running from the conclusion of the initial EEOC appeal—regardless of whether the employee timely files a motion for reconsideration. Thus, the district court dismissed the suit as untimely. The Fourth Circuit reversed.

The Fourth Court relied on a pair of Supreme Court decisions that, although interpreting different statutes, addressed the same question: whether timely petition for administrative reconsideration stays the running of the statutory limitation period until the petition has been acted on by the agency. See Stone v. INS, 514 U.S. 386 (1995); ICC v. Bhd. of Locomotive Engineers, 482 U.S. 270 (1987). In each case the Supreme Court held that the recon petition stays the limitation period. The Fourth Circuit said the district court should be excused from not considering those cases since the parties never brought them to the district court's attention.

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