Employment Discrimination Complaint Properly Dismissed as Time-Barred; July 4th Holiday Did Not Warrant Equitable Tolling [Ko v. JP Morgan Chase]

In Ko v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 17-2743, 2018 WL 1830460 (2d Cir. April 17, 2018) (Summary Order), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 as untimely.

The court gives us a little law on the applicable statutory deadlines and how they are affected by the mechanics of mailing:

Both the ADEA and Title VII provide that an employment discrimination suit must be filed within 90 days of the receipt of the right to sue letter from the EEOC. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Failure to bring suit within the 90-day limitation period is fatal to the claim unless subject to equitable tolling. … This Court presumes that a mailed document is received three days after its mailing …, and that the notice is presumed to have been mailed on the date shown on the notice[.]

Based on this rule, the plaintiff here received the EEOC’s right-to-sue letter on July 2, 2016, but did not file her complaint in federal court until October 2, 2016; i.e., two days after the 90-day deadline expired.

Plaintiff argued that the court should apply the doctrine of “equitable tolling” to find her complaint timely, because the weekend after her letter was sent was the Independence Day holiday weekend.

The court summarized the law regarding equitable tolling:

When determining whether equitable tolling is applicable, a district court must consider whether the person seeking application of the equitable tolling doctrine has “acted with reasonable diligence during the time period she seeks to have tolled” and must prove that the circumstances are so extraordinary that the doctrine should apply. … One who fails to act diligently cannot invoke equitable principles to excuse [a] lack of diligence.

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff was not entitled to the benefit of equitable tolling:

Here, Ko has not demonstrated that she acted diligently during the ninety-day time period or that the circumstances are so extraordinary in her case as to warrant equitable tolling. Every litigant seeking relief from a district court must navigate federal holidays in the calendar, and Ko provides no authority suggesting that equitable tolling should be granted for alleged delays in the mail service.

The court thus concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to grant equitable tolling to excuse Ko’s untimely complaint, and affirmed its judgment in defendant’s favor.

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