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DELAWARE STATE COLL. V. RICKS, 449 U. S. 250 (1980)

U.S. Supreme Court

Delaware State Coll. v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250 (1980)

Delaware State College v. Ricks

No. 79-939

Argued October 7, 1980

Decided December 15, 1980

449 U.S. 250


The Board of Trustees of petitioner Delaware State College formally voted to deny tenure to respondent professor on the basis of recommendations of the College's tenure committee and Faculty Senate. During the pendency of respondent's grievance before the Board's grievance committee, the Trustees on June 26, 1974, told him that, pursuant to College policy, he would be offered a 1-year "terminal" contract that would expire June 30, 1975. Respondent signed the contract, and on September 12, 1974, the Board notified him that it had denied his grievance. After the appropriate Delaware agency had waived its primary jurisdiction over respondent's employment discrimination charge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), on April 28, 1975, accepted his complaint for filing. More than two years later, the EEOC issued a "right to sue" letter, and respondent filed this action in the District Court on September 9, 1977. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that the College had discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin in violation of both Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Title VII requires that a complaint be filed with the EEOC within 180 days (300 days under certain circumstances) "after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred," 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e). Under the applicable Delaware statute of limitations, cases under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 must be filed within three years of the unfavorable employment decision. The District Court dismissed both of respondent's claims as untimely. It held that the only unlawful employment practice alleged was the College's decision to deny respondent tenure, and that the limitations periods for both claims had commenced to run by June 26, 1974, when the Board officially notified him that he would be offered a 1-year "terminal" contract. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the limitations period for both claims did not commence to run until the "terminal" contract expired on June 30, 1975.

Held: Respondent's Title VII and § 1981 claims were untimely. Pp. 449 U. S. 256-262.

(a) The allegations of the complaint do not support respondent's "continuing violation" argument that discrimination motivated the College not only in denying him tenure but also in terminating his employment

Page 449 U. S. 251

on June 30, 1975. The only discrimination alleged occurred -- and the filing limitations periods therefore commenced -- at the time the tenure decision was made and communicated to respondent. This is so even though one of the effects of the denial of tenure -- the eventual loss of a teaching position -- did not occur until later. Pp. 449 U. S. 256-258.

(b) Nor can the final date of employment be adopted, for policy reasons and simplicity, as the date when the limitations periods commenced. Where, as here, the only challenged practice occurs before the date of termination of employment, the limitations periods necessarily commenced to run before that date. Pp. 449 U. S. 259-260.

(c) The date when respondent was notified that his grievance had been denied, September 12, 1974, cannot be considered to be the date of the unfavorable tenure decision. The Board had made clear well before then that it had formally rejected respondent's tenure bid, and entertaining a grievance complaining of the tenure decision does not suggest that the prior decision was in any respect tentative. Nor does the pendency of a grievance, or some other method of collateral review of an employment decision, toll the running of the limitations periods, Electrical Workers v. Robbins & Myers, Inc., 429 U. S. 229. Pp. 449 U. S. 260-261.

(d) The District Court's conclusion that the limitations periods had commenced to run by June 26, 1974, when the Board notified respondent that he would be offered a "terminal" contract, was not erroneous. In light of the earlier recommendations of the tenure committee and the Faculty Senate that respondent not receive tenure and the Board's formal vote to deny tenure, the conclusion that the College had established its official position -- and made that position apparent to respondent -- no later than June 26, 1974, was justified. Pp. 449 U. S. 261-262.

605 F.2d 710, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 449 U. S. 262. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 449 U. S. 265.

Page 449 U. S. 252

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