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Bonham v. Dresser Industries Inc.

argued as amended january 26 1978.: October 20, 1977.



Van Dusen and Rosenn, Circuit Judges, and Stern,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Stern


STERN, District Judge:

Appellant Emra Joseph Bonham filed an action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against his former employer, Dresser Industries, Inc. The complaint was framed in two counts. Count I, based on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., charged that Bonham's employment with Dresser was unlawfully terminated on December 31, 1975 "because of his age and for no other just cause." Count II invoked the court's diversity jurisdiction and charged that the termination was a breach of his oral contract of employment actionable under state common law.

Dresser moved to dismiss Count I for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that plaintiff had failed to file timely charges with both federal and state authorities. Dresser also moved for dismissal of Count II for failure to state a claim. The district court, treating Dresser's motion as a motion for summary judgment, granted judgment for Dresser on both counts.

In granting summary judgment on Count I, the district court determined that the alleged unlawful practice occurred on October 31, 1975, that the federal 180-day period for filing a charge with the Secretary of Labor ran from that date, that Bonham's June 16, 1976 notice to the Secretary of Labor was therefore untimely, and that Bonham's failure to file within 180 days of October 31 was a jurisdictional defect. The district court held, alternatively, that Bonham's ADEA claim was barred for failure to file a charge with state authorities within 90 days. In granting summary judgment on Count II, the district court held that the complaint failed to state a claim under Pennsylvania law. We reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment on Count I of the complaint; we affirm its disposition of Count II.

Bonham, who was in his late forties when the events giving rise to this litigation took place, began working for Dresser Industries in 1969. Through a series of promotions, he reached the position of "manager-factory accounting" at an annual salary of $28,500.00.

The affidavit of Dresser's vice president states that Bonham's employment terminated on October 31, 1975, that Bonham was informed of the termination on or before October 31, 1975, and that Bonham performed no services as a Dresser employee after October 31, 1975. Bonham's personnel card, which Dresser made part of the record, indicates that Bonham was terminated on October 31; this document states that the termination was "by mutual consent."*fn1

Bonham argued here and before the district court that the termination occurred on December 31, 1975. His affidavit states that he was informed on October 31 that he would be terminated as of December 31, 1975, that he was paid his regular salary, periodically from October 31 through December 31, 1975, that the company kept his insurance coverage effective through December 31, and that he was advised, in writing by the company, that his retirement benefits would be calculated on the basis of a December 31 termination date.*fn2 However, he does not dispute that October 31, 1975 was the day he was told of his termination and that it was the last day he actually worked.

In January of 1976, Bonham wrote directly to the president of Dresser Industries requesting that he be placed in a different division of the company.*fn3 On January 19, Dresser's president advised Bonham that he had made arrangements to review other opportunities for Bonham within the company.*fn4 On February 18, 1976, however, Bonham was notified that there would be no position for him within Dresser Industries.

On June 16, 1976, - 229 days after the October 31 date urged by the company, 169 days after the December 31 date urged by Bonham, and 118 days after Bonham received word from Dresser that there were no other positions at Dresser for him - Bonham gave notice to the Secretary of Labor of his intention to sue. On the same date, he notified the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission of his allegedly wrongful discharge.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was designed to promote the employment of persons between the ages of 40 and 64 by prohibiting discriminatory employment decisions based on age. See 29 U.S.C. § 631. The substantive provisions of the Act are enforceable both by governmental actions and by private suits brought by aggrieved persons. Prior to the commencement of any action, the Secretary of Labor must be given an opportunity to eliminate the allegedly discriminatory practice through informal methods. 29 U.S.C. § 626(d). In order to provide the Secretary this opportunity to attempt conciliation, an aggrieved person must notify the Secretary that he intends to sue 60 days before commencing an action.

The Act imposes two additional procedural requirements on private litigants. Section 626(d)(1) provides that the 60-day notice of intent to sue must be filed with the Secretary of Labor "within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful ...

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