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Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 25, 2019

Barbrie Logan, Plaintiff-Appellant,
MGM Grand Detroit Casino, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: March 21, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Flint. No. 4:16-cv-10585-Linda V. Parker, District Judge.


          Kevin M. Carlson, Plymouth, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Joseph E. Richotte, BUTZEL LONG, P.C., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Jennifer S. Goldstein, UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Curiae.

         ON BRIEF:

          Joseph E. Richotte, Brett J. Miller, BUTZEL LONG, P.C., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Jennifer S. Goldstein, Paul D. Ramshaw, UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Curiae.

          Barbrie Logan, Detroit, Michigan, pro se.

          Before: BOGGS, GIBBONS and BUSH, Circuit Judges.



         This case requires us to determine, as a matter of first impression, whether the statute of limitations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., may be contractually shortened for litigation. Barbrie Logan worked as a cook for MGM Grand Detroit Casino ("MGM"). As part of her job application, she agreed to a six-month limitation period to bring any lawsuit against her employer. After leaving the job, she sued MGM under Title VII, alleging employment discrimination. Her former employer asserted a statute of limitations defense: although Logan arguably brought her claim within the statutory period required by Title VII, she waited longer than the limitation period provided in her employment application. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment to MGM.

         On appeal, Logan argues that the contractual limitation period cannot supersede the statutory limitation period for bringing suit under Title VII. We agree. The limitation period of Title VII is part of an elaborate pre-suit process that must be followed before any litigation may commence. Contractual alteration of this process abrogates substantive rights and contravenes Congress's uniform nationwide legal regime for Title VII lawsuits. Therefore, we REVERSE the decision of the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Logan began her employment as a culinary utility worker for MGM in August 2007. In the application process, Logan agreed to a six-month limitation period as a condition of employment:

I agree that any claim or lawsuit arising out of my employment with, or my application for employment with, MGM Grand or any of its subsidiaries must be filed no more than six (6) months after the date of the employment action that is the subject of the claim or lawsuit. While I understand that the statute of limitations for claims arising out of an employment action may be longer than six (6) months, I agree to be bound by the six (6) month period of limitations set forth herein, and I WAIVE ANY STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS TO THE CONTRARY.

R. 40-4, PageID 641. After several years working at MGM, Logan resigned on December 4, 2014. Logan's resignation was, she alleges, "due to discrimination caused by her employer" and therefore a constructive discharge. R. 42, PageID 820. On July 8, 2015-216 days later-Logan filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against MGM. In the Charge of Discrimination, Logan alleged that she "was subjected to different terms and conditions of employment based on [her] sex . . . and in retaliation for . . . participation in protected activity." R. 40-17, PageID 779. The EEOC investigated Logan's allegation and issued her a right-to-sue letter in November 2015. On February 17, 2016-440 days after resigning-Logan sued MGM for discrimination under Title VII.

         MGM moved for summary judgment, arguing that Logan's employment agreement required her to commence any action arising out of her employment within six months and that her failure to do so barred her claim. The magistrate judge assigned to the case agreed with MGM and issued a Report and Recommendation to that effect. The district court adopted the Report and Recommendation and entered summary judgment in favor of MGM. Logan timely appealed.

         We review de novo the district court's decision to grant summary judgment. Maben v. Thelen, 887 F.3d 252, 258 (6th Cir. 2018). Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Here, there is no dispute as to any material fact. It is undisputed that Logan agreed to be bound by a six-month limitation period, and the relevant dates are not in controversy. This case thus turns on a purely legal issue: whether a contract can alter the limitation period for suit established by Title VII.

         Resolution of this issue turns on consideration of both (1) the detailed enforcement scheme of Title VII and (2) the national implications of congressional anti-discrimination policy. These considerations, discussed in turn below, lead us to hold that MGM may not enforce the contractual alteration of the Title VII limitation period.


         A. Enforcement Scheme of Title VII

         Title VII entitles employees to be free from discrimination in the workplace and gives them a remedy for discrimination that they might suffer. Title VII is not the only federal statute that gives a private remedy to Americans who have been discriminated against in the workplace. However, as explained below, Title VII is unique among workplace anti-discrimination laws.

         Under Title VII employers may not (1) "discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, " or (2) "deprive any individual of employment opportunities . . . because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII enforcement relies on a combination of public and private action and mandates that the EEOC, the federal agency tasked with enforcing Title VII, must afford non-compliant employers the chance to voluntarily cure their violations before Title VII litigation may be brought against them. See Occidental Life Ins. Co. of Cal. v. EEOC, 432 U.S. 355, 367–68 (1977) ("When Congress first enacted Title VII in 1964 it selected '(c)ooperation and voluntary compliance . . . as the preferred means for achieving' the goal of equality of employment opportunities." (alteration in original) (quoting Alexander v. Gardner Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 44 (1974))). Consequently, a protected individual may not simply sue a recalcitrant employer under Title VII without having first brought the dispute before the EEOC for resolution.

         The EEOC process begins with a "charge" filed by the victim of discrimination. Generally, the charge must be filed with the EEOC "within 180 days of the occurrence of the alleged unlawful employment practice." EEOC v. Commercial Office Prods. Co., 486 U.S. 107, 110 (1988) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)). However, the filing period may be extended to 300 days in jurisdictions that have "State or local law prohibiting the unlawful employment practice alleged, " 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(d), and "a State or local agency with authority to grant or seek relief from such practice, " id. § 2000e-5(e)(1). Within such jurisdictions, known as "deferral jurisdictions, " the 300-day limitation period applies so long as the complaining employee has "instituted proceedings with [the applicable] State or local agency." Id.; 29 C.F.R. § 1601.13. Michigan, the state where this case arises, is a deferral jurisdiction, and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) is the applicable agency in that state for investigating unlawful employment practices. See 29 C.F.R. § 1601.13.

         To benefit from the extended limitation period, the complaining employee must actually "institute[] proceedings" with the appropriate state agency. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). For the first sixty days after the employee files her complaint with that agency, it maintains exclusive jurisdiction over the complaint, unless it terminates the complaint earlier. Id. § 2000e-5(c). Thus, the time that the state agency spends with the complaint (up to sixty days) effectively trims the 300-day limitation period by that much. Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 814 n.16 (1980). This consequence is mitigated by EEOC "work-sharing agreements" with state and local agencies, which allow employees in deferral jurisdictions to gain the benefit of the full 300-day limitation period. 29 C.F.R. § 1601.13(c). Under a work-sharing agreement, if an employee in a deferral state initially files a charge with the EEOC, the EEOC may share the charge with the state agency, which may then "waive the 60-day deferral period and thus authorize the EEOC to take immediate action . . . ." Comm. Office Prods. Co., 486 U.S. at 121. Consequently, in a deferral state like Michigan, where the EEOC has entered into a work-sharing agreement with the MDCR, the employee will have preserved her claim if within 300 days of the allegedly discriminatory acts she either (a) institutes proceedings with the state agency and also then files the charge with the EEOC, or (b) files only with the EEOC, which under the work-sharing agreement, refers the charge to the applicable state agency.

         Upon receipt of a charge, the EEOC investigates its allegations. The EEOC has exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of the charge for 180 days. EEOC v. Frank's Nursery & Crafts, Inc., 177 F.3d 448, 456 (6th Cir. 1999); 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(f)(1). The EEOC will issue the complaining employee a right-to-sue letter if the agency makes one of the following four determinations: (1) where the EEOC determines that "there is not reasonable cause to believe that an unlawful employment practice has occurred, " (2) where the EEOC determines that a violation has occurred, and that the employer refuses to enter into a conciliation agreement, and the EEOC decides not to pursue a civil action against the employer, (3) where the EEOC has entered into a conciliation agreement but the complaining employee has not entered into the conciliation agreement, ...

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