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Courtney v. La Salle University

August 26, 1997

DONALD J. COURTNEY, EXECUTOR AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF ROBERT J. COURTNEY, PH.D., DECEASED ON OCTOBER 6, 1996, APPELLANT IN NOS. 96-1512 AND 96-1867

v.

LA SALLE UNIVERSITY, APPELLANT IN NO. 96-1865

(D.C. NO. 92-CV-03838)

CHARLES A. HALPIN, JR., J.D., APPELLANT IN NOS. 96-1572 AND 96-1868

v.

LA SALLE UNIVERSITY, APPELLANT IN NO. 96-1866



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

(D.C. No. 92-cv-04079)

Before: BECKER and SCIRICA, Circuit Judges, and SCHWARZER, *fn* <--author--> Senior District Judge

McKEE, Circuit Judge.

Filed August 26, 1997

Argued: June 2, 1997

(Filed August 26, 1997)

OPINION OF THE COURT

SCHWARZER, Senior District Judge:

In June 1990, La Salle University retired Professor Robert J. Courtney, over his objection, because he had reached the age of seventy. A year later, Professor Charles A. Halpin was retired for the same reason. Both professors had long been aware that La Salle's policy mandated their retirement at age seventy, but neither filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") until November 1991. The question on this appeal is whether their charges under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. Section(s) 621-634, ("ADEA") were timely filed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

La Salle has long maintained a mandatory retirement policy. In 1963, the Faculty Handbook stated that employment at the University would continue beyond age sixty-five only upon approval by the Board of Managers. Four years later, the College Council voted to adopt a mandatory retirement age of sixty-five. In 1982, the mandatory retirement policy was amended to require retirement at the end of the year in which the professor reached the age of seventy.

Professors Courtney and Halpin began teaching at La Salle in 1946, and received academic tenure ten years later. In the mid-1960s both received letters announcing their "appointment for life" to the rank of "professor."

In 1988, both Courtney and Halpin inquired about taking sabbaticals and were told that La Salle would not allow it because they were nearing mandatory retirement. The professors responded that the "appointment for life" represented a contract of lifetime employment, and that they did not have to retire. On May 20, 1988, La Salle sent identical letters to each professor, stating that"the University is not contractually obligated to employ you beyond the end of the fiscal year in which you reach the age of seventy." La Salle stated its position that the professors were employed under contracts of one year only:

Your 1987-1988 contract, dated May 18 and executed May 27, 1987, as well as your 1988-1989 contract . . . clearly states: "This appointment, if accepted by you, constitutes the entire agreement between you and La Salle University concerning the term of your appointment, rank and salary. . . .

Thus, your present faculty contract is a fully integrated agreement and its term is only for the 1988-1989 academic year. It does not contain any of the language used in the contracts of the early 60's.

Two years later, the professors filed suit in state court, seeking a declaratory judgment that they had contracts of lifetime employment. No charge of age discrimination was filed with the EEOC at that time. The trial court found that the professors did indeed have contracts of lifetime employment (based on the 1960's "appointment for life" language), but the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed, holding that the professors had entered into integrated contracts for a term of one year only. Halpin v. La Salle Univ., 639 A.2d 37 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1994). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied discretionary review. 668 A.2d 1133 (Pa. 1994) (table).

Courtney turned seventy during the 1989-1990 school year. In February 1990, La Salle formally notified him that, consistent with University policy, he would be required to retire at the end of the school year. Courtney was offered a part-time teaching position with reduced salary and benefits for the fall of 1990, which he accepted.

Halpin turned seventy in January 1991. On February 1, 1991, La Salle notified him that school policy required him to retire at the end of the 1990-1991 school year, and offered him a part-time teaching position for the following academic year, which he too accepted.

On November 29, 1991, Halpin and Courtney filed charges of discrimination under the ADEA with the EEOC. After the EEOC issued right-to-sue letters, they brought two separate actions in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The complaints alleged violations of the ADEA, in Count I based on the mandatory retirement policy and the part-time employment policy, and in Count II based on an alleged pattern and practice of discrimination against employees over seventy. *fn1

La Salle moved for summary judgment, contending that as a matter of law it falls within the ADEA exemption for tenured professors, 29 U.S.C. Section(s) 631(d) (1993) (repealed by P.L. 99-592, Section(s) 6(b)). The district court denied La Salle's motion for summary judgment on this point, concluding that La Salle was bound by the state appellate court's holding that the professors' contracts were for a term of one year only, and therefore did not meet the terms of the exemption, which requires a contract or similar arrangement for unlimited tenure.

La Salle also moved for summary judgment in both cases based on 29 U.S.C. Section(s) 626(d)(2), which requires that a charge of unlawful discrimination under the ADEA befiled "within 300 days after the alleged unlawful practice occurred . . . ." The district court granted summary judgment on Courtney's claims, finding that the November 1991 charge was brought more than 300 days after his claims accrued and that no equitable exception to the limitations period applied. As to Halpin's claims, the district court granted the motion on the mandatory retirement claim, finding it untimely, but denied it on Halpin's claim of discrimination based on the part-time employment policy. The district court certified the order in Halpin's case for interlocutory appeal.

We have jurisdiction of Courtney's appeal under 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1291, and of Halpin's appeal under 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1292(b). Our review of the district court's decision is de novo. Pennsylvania Coal ...


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