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Goger v. H. K. Porter Co.

decided: January 31, 1974.



Van Dusen, Hunter and Garth, Circuit Judges. Garth, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Author: Hunter


HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

This appeal involves a suit by appellant Goger against her former employer for terminating her employment allegedly on account of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (hereinafter "the Act or 1967 Act").*fn1 The district court dismissed the action for failure to have jurisdiction, holding that under the 1967 Act appellant was required to submit a complaint to the appropriate agency of the State of New Jersey at least sixty days prior to instituting an action in the federal courts. Appellant appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

Appellee is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey. Shortly after appellant was dismissed, counsel for appellant notified the Secretary of Labor that appellant intended to file a civil action under the 1967 Act and requested that the Secretary fulfill his mediation obligations.*fn2 The Secretary, acting through his Area Director, Hugo C. Sica of the Wage and Hour and Public Contracts Divisions of the United States Department of Labor, acknowledged receipt of the complaint and referred the matter to a compliance officer. All attempts by the compliance officer to reach a satisfactory solution proved fruitless so he advised appellant's counsel that appellant was free to institute her contemplated civil action under the Act. At no time prior to the institution of this suit did appellant file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights of the Department of Law and Public Safety, the New Jersey State Agency responsible for the elimination of unlawful discrimination in employment based on age.*fn3 Such a complaint is now barred under New Jersey law, which requires all complaints to be filed within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination.*fn4

Since a state agency existed in New Jersey having authority to grant appellant relief from the alleged discrimination,*fn5 the central issue before us is whether section 633(b)*fn6 of the 1967 Act requires an aggrieved individual initially to seek redress from the state agency before instituting suit in federal district court. Appellant and the Secretary of Labor in an amicus curiae brief argue that under the Act an aggrieved individual has the choice of pursuing either federal or state remedies; only if he chooses the latter is the sixty-day limitation of section 633(b) applicable. In their view section 633(b) does not deal with the situation where no state proceedings "have been commenced."

We agree with the district court, however, that although the Act does not require an aggrieved person to exhaust state remedies as a condition precedent to the institution of a federal suit, it does require that the State be given a threshold period of sixty days in which it may attempt to resolve the controversy, normally by voluntary compliance.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (hereinafter "1964 Act") specifically prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.*fn7 Congress recognized that the 1964 Act left untouched a major problem -- age discrimination -- and consequently directed the Secretary of Labor to make a study of the full magnitude of this problem.*fn8 From this common origin arose the 1967 Act.

A comparison of these two statutes reveals that section 633(b) is virtually identical to the language of the parallel provision of the 1964 Act,*fn9 and courts have repeatedly interpreted the latter as requiring that appropriate state agencies be given a prior opportunity to consider discrimination complaints before resorting to the federal courts.*fn10 Love v. Pullman Co., 404 U.S. 522, 30 L. Ed. 2d 679, 92 S. Ct. 616 (1972); Crosslin v. Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co., 422 F.2d 1028 (9th Cir. 1970), vacated and remanded, 400 U.S. 1004, 91 S. Ct. 562, 27 L. Ed. 2d 618 (1971); Electrical Workers, Local 5 v. EEOC, 398 F.2d 248 (3d Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1021, 21 L. Ed. 2d 565, 89 S. Ct. 628 (1968).

The minor differences between section 633 and its counterpart under the 1964 Act are insignificant and provide no support for an interpretation of the former which is contrary to the Supreme Court's construction in Love v. Pullman, supra. Moreover, the legislative history of the 1967 Act, though largely couched in terms identical to that of the statute,*fn11 nonetheless is devoid of any intention of Congress to deviate from the basic philosophy of the 1964 Act of initially giving state agencies sixty days to resolve the problem.*fn12 Indeed, at the public hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor at least two individuals suggested to the Subcommittee the desirability of retaining Title VII's feature of deferring in the first instance to state agencies for a limited period of time.*fn13 We therefore conclude that section 633(b) required appellant to seek relief from the appropriate New Jersey agency prior to instituting her suit in the federal district court.

Lastly, appellant and the Secretary of Labor argue that notwithstanding our interpretation of section 633(b) appellant should not be barred from seeking relief under the Act since appellant filed her federal complaint only after a Department of Labor compliance officer had advised her counsel that the Department's efforts to reach a satisfactory settlement had failed and that appellant was thus free to institute an action under the Act. See Love v. Pullman, 404 U.S. 522, 30 L. Ed. 2d 679, 92 S. Ct. 616 (1972); Crosslin v. Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Co., 400 U.S. 1004, 91 S. Ct. 562, 27 L. Ed. 2d 618 (1971); Parker v. General Telephone Co., 476 F.2d 595 (9th Cir. 1973); Mitchell v. MidContinent Spring Co., 466 F.2d 24 (6th Cir. 1972); Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., 431 F.2d 455 (5th Cir. 1970); Choate v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 402 F.2d 357 (7th Cir. 1968).

While we do not consider the failure to file a timely complaint with the appropriate state agency a mere "technical" omission,*fn14 we nonetheless consider equitable relief to be appropriate in view of the total absence, to our knowledge, of any judicial decision construing section 633(b) during the period involved here and in view of the remedial purpose of the 1967 Act.*fn15 In the future, however, we think the Congressional intent that state agencies be given the initial opportunity to act should be strictly followed and enforced. See Dubois v. Packard Bell Corp., 470 F.2d 973 (10th Cir. 1972). For the reason stated in the first sentence of this paragraph, we need not decide on this record whether a plaintiff must always proceed first before the state agencies.

The order of the district court of February 20, 1973 will be vacated and the cause remanded for a hearing on the ...

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