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In determining when the filing limitations period commences, the proper focus is upon the time of the discriminatory acts, not upon the time at which the consequences of the acts became most painful.
A black Liberian college professor who had formally been denied tenure by a Delaware state college's board of trustees in March, 1974, immediately filed a grievance with the board's grievance committee. During the pendency of the grievance, the college, in June, 1974, offered the professor a one-year "terminal" contract to expire in June, 1975. Following the professor's acceptance of this contract, the board of trustees notified him in September, 1974 that his grievance had been denied. In April, 1975--following a waiver of primary jurisdiction by the appropriate state fair employment practices agency--the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accepted a complaint from the professor, and, after a lapse of over two years, the EEOC issued a "right to sue" letter in September, 1977. The professor then commenced an action in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, claiming, among other things, that the college had discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court sustained the college's motion to dismiss both claims as untimely, concluding that the only unlawful employment practice alleged by the professor was the college's decision to deny him tenure, and that the limitations period for both claims had therefore commenced to run by June, 1974 when the professor was notified that he would be offered the one-year "terminal" contract. The District Court pointed out that the Title VII claim was not timely because, pursuant to 42 USCS 2000e-5(e), the professor was required to file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the "alleged unlawful employment practice." Similarly, the District Court reasoned that the 1981 claim was not timely because the professor's lawsuit had not been filed within the three years required by the applicable Delaware statute of limitations, which is adopted in 1981 actions. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, ruling that the claims were not untimely, since the limitations periods for both claims did not commence to run until the professor's "terminal" contract expired in June, 1975
Were the professor’s Title VII and § 1981 claims untimely?
On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that the college professor failed to comply with either the 180-day limitations period applicable to the filing of an EEOC complaint or with the three-year limitations period applicable to the action under 42 USCS 1981, since the only discrimination allegedly occurred, and the limitations periods therefore commenced, at the time the tenure decision was made and communicated to the professor regardless of the fact that the effects of the tenure denial, such as the actual loss of teaching position, did not occur until later, the proper focus being upon the time of the discriminatory act, not upon the time at which the consequences of the act became most painful, and accordingly. The Court further held that the limitations periods commenced to run no later than June, 1974, the date on which the college's board of trustees clearly established its official position and notified the professor that he would be offered the one year "terminal" contract, and not--under the theory that discrimination not only motivated the tenure denial, but also the actual termination of employment--on the professor's final date of employment in June, 1975, nor in September, 1974, the date on which the grievance filed by the professor regarding tenure denial was officially rejected.