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When was the Discrimination?

Seltman v. Exelon Corp.,C.A. No: 11-07195 (E.D.Pa. 2012) is an employment discrimination case fromPennsylvania. The main import of the case is that it analyzes when the statute of limitations begins to run on a case of employment discrimination. A typical case of employment discrimination involves the discrete act making up the discrimination, the termination, and then a filing of a charge with the respective administrative agencies. Theoretically, these times should all be concrete, however more often than not it is a nebulous concept. This case involves some discussion of waiver of rights but the crux of the case is the timeliness analysis.

In this case, the Plaintiff, Seltman, was working for Exelon in 2007, when the company began an investigation into sexual assault claims. Seltman worked in a nuclear power plant, and thus had certain security clearances which allowed access to and from his workspace. However, a month after questioning, approximately May 24, 2007, he was informed that his access was being cancelled. As a result, he appealed this decision, and again on September 14, 2007, was informed that he had 90 days to find employment with Exelon which did not involve unescorted access. On November 19, 2007, Exelon terminated Seltman. As a result of his dismissal, Seltman filed a claim with the EEOC which was cross-claimed with the state agency on September 27, 2008.

When Seltman brought suit in Federal court, the defendants challenged the timeliness of his charge. Exelon argued that Seltman could not win on any charge because he had waited until the statute of limitations had passed.

The 3rd circuit has developed large amounts of case-law which provide assistance in interpreting employment discrimination laws. The statutes require that PHRA claims, those with the state agency must be filed within 180 days of the adverse decision. EEOC claims, those arising under Federal laws must be filed within 300 days of the adverse employment decision. An adverse employment decision occurs when an employee receives notice that termination is an inevitable result. Thus, if a person receives a 2 week notice for example that would be the date from which the statute runs.

Several other cases were analyzed. One prominent case, Watson v. Eastman Kodak Co., 235 F.3d 851 (3d Cir. 2000) involved a somewhat similar situation. The court found that in that case, a person was notified of a job demotion by letter, and not on the date of actual termination. The employee was demoted and then failed to find another position within the company in the 31 days required in a demotion letter. The plaintiff in that case argued that the possibility of continued employment meant the date was pushed forward to actual termination. However, the court disagreed, and the statute of limitations ran from the date the demotion letter was received. Because the earlier date was more than 300 days before an EEOC charge was filed, the court held it was untimely.

In this case, the Court undertook a similar analysis. The charge was filed September 27, 2008. The court then based on this date, held that any discriminatory act would have had to occur after December 2, 2007 to be timely. Similarly, any possibility of continued employment does not change the date of notification for statutory purposes. Another problem was that the discrimination charge was not based on termination from his position but restricting unescorted access, thus taking the date from which the statute ran further back. The court thus dismissed the case as untimely.

This case shows that while employment discrimination may occur, and there are certain elements which must be met, the first step is time. Failing to allege discrimination with the proper agencies within 180 days or 300 days could signal a death knell to a case. In Seltman's matter, the court notably did not address whether there was discrimination because it was a needless examination. The defendants were able to show the charge was untimely, and thus the plaintiff's case ended before it began.

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