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U.S. Supreme Court

Stevens v. Department of Treasury, 500 U.S. 1 (1991)

Stevens v. Department of Treasury

No. 89-1821

Argued March 19, 1991

Decided April 24, 1991

500 U.S. 1


On April 26, 1987, petitioner Stevens, who was in his 60's, was subjected to an adverse personnel action by his employer, the Internal Revenue Service. Believing that he had been the victim of age discrimination, he attempted to invoke his agency's administrative procedure for resolving such claims in September, 1987, long after the expiration of the applicable time period set forth in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations. On October 19, he filed a formal administrative complaint of age discrimination with the Department of the Treasury, concluding with a notice of his intention to sue if the matter was not satisfactorily resolved. The complaint was rejected because of the untimeliness of his initial attempt to obtain relief, and the EEOC's Office of Review and Appeals affirmed. On May 3, 1988, Stevens filed a complaint against the Department and its Secretary in the District Court, which dismissed the case with prejudice, concluding that it was "without jurisdiction" to apply the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) in the circumstances. Noting that a federal employee has two alternative avenues of relief under the ADEA, the court reasoned (1) that Stevens had not satisfied the requirements for proceeding directly to federal court under 29 U.S.C. § 633a(d), which, the court declared, mandated that he "initiate an action no later than 180 days from the unlawful action and notify the EEOC within 30 days prior to commencing suit," and (2) that his attempted administrative procedure had not properly been invoked because of untimeliness, whereas, having chosen the

Page 500 U. S. 2

administrative route under § 633a(b), he was required to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing suit. The Court of Appeals declared that, under § 633a(d), Stevens had to file a notice of intent to sue within 180 days of the allegedly discriminatory action, but did not have to initiate his federal suit within that period. Nevertheless, the court affirmed the dismissal of his complaint on the ground that, since he had not initiated his suit until May 3, 1988, his October 19, 1987, notice to the EEOC was not effective.


1. Stevens' civil action was timely under § 633a. 500 U. S. 5-8.

(a) Stevens clearly met the requirements of § 633a(d), which calls for a notice of "not less than" 30 days to the EEOC of an intent to sue (not notification within 30 days), and provides that the "notice shall be filed" within 180 days of the alleged unlawful practice (not filed within 180 days of the notice). Here, the EEOC -- which accepts a notice given to the employing agency as sufficient compliance with the statutory notice requirement -- was notified on October 19, 1987, the 176th day after the alleged discriminatory action of April 27, 1987. And suit was not filed until May 3, 1988, a date more than 30 days after the notice was given. Pp. 500 U. S. 5-7.

(b) There is no discernible basis for concluding that the suit was not filed within the applicable limitations period. Since the statute does not expressly impose any additional limitations period for a complaint, it must be assumed that Congress intended to impose an appropriate period borrowed either from a state statute or from an analogous federal one. It need not be decided here which limitations period is applicable to § 633a(c) civil actions, since Stevens filed his suit only one year and six days after the allegedly discriminatory event. As the Government acknowledges, that is well within whatever statute of limitations might apply. Pp. 500 U. S. 7-8.

(c) The timeliness issue is properly before this Court, since the District Court heard the case on the merits, and the Court of Appeals in its turn specifically referred to Stevens' notice of intention to file a civil suit and answered the timeliness question incorrectly. P. 500 U. S. 8.

2. This Court will not address the question whether Stevens, having filed an administrative complaint, was required to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing a civil action, since the Government, in direct contradiction of its position before the Court of Appeals, now fully agrees with Stevens that exhaustion is not required. Pp. 500 U. S. 8-11.

897 F.2d 526 (CA5 1990), reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER,

Page 500 U. S. 3

JJ., joined, and in all but Part IV of which STEVENS, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

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