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In an age discrimination case, the plaintiff does not need a “right-to-sue letter” from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but instead can proceed directly to court 60 days after filing an EEOC charge, a federal judge has ruled. In Turton v. Sharp Steel Rule Die Inc., Judge Jan E. DuBois of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania rejected arguments by defense lawyers who said the complaint should be dismissed because the plaintiff had failed to “exhaust” his available administrative remedies at the EEOC. Instead, DuBois adopted the reasoning of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hodge v. N.Y. College of Podiatric Medicine, a 1998 decision that explained the differences in the exhaustion requirements of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII. “Whereas Title VII plaintiffs must receive a ‘right-to-sue’ letter from the EEOC before filing suit in federal court, … ADEA plaintiffs need only wait 60 days after filing the EEOC charge. Thus, the ADEA plaintiff can sue in court even if the EEOC has not yet completed its investigation or attempts at conciliation,” the Hodge court wrote. By following Hodge, DuBois parted company with one of his colleagues on the Eastern District bench. In Farahmand v. Cohen, U.S. District Judge Herbert J. Hutton held in 1999 that under both Title VII and the ADEA, a plaintiff “must file charges with the EEOC and receive a right-to-sue letter before filing a complaint in federal court.” Hutton granted partial summary judgment after finding that the plaintiff had raised claims in court that he had never raised before the EEOC. “Because the statutory scheme of Title VII and ADEA stresses conciliation by the EEOC over formal adjudication, there are limitations on the presentation of new claims in the district court,” Hutton wrote. But in Turton, the defense made a more focused attack on the lack of a right-to-sue letter in a suit alleging only an ADEA claim. The plaintiff, Robert A. Turton, who is represented by attorney Donald P. Russo, claims he was fired at the age of 41 after 22 years of service because Sharp Steel wanted to hire a younger, untrained person for less money than Turton was earning. Turton filed an administrative charge with the EEOC in March 1999 and filed suit in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas in April 2001. Sharp Steel’s lawyer, John S. Harrison, removed the suit to U.S. District Court and immediately moved for dismissal. Harrison complained that the suit did not attach a right-to-sue letter and didn’t state whether Turton had exhausted his administrative remedies. DuBois found that the ADEA does include an exhaustion requirement, but said it differs from the requirements in Title VII. Section 626(d) of the ADEA, he said, requires the plaintiff to file a charge with the EEOC and to wait at least 60 days before filing suit in court. DuBois interpreted the section to mean that a plaintiff need not wait any longer than 60 days. “A complainant who has filed a charge with the EEOC, and has waited 60 days prior to filing an ADEA claim in federal court, has exhausted his administrative remedies,” DuBois wrote. Turton easily met that requirement, DuBois found, since he sued “well after” the 60-day period. Turning to Harrison’s argument that Turton had failed to attach a right-to-sue letter, DuBois found that the defense was reading too much into a different section of the ADEA. Section 626(e) of the ADEA states: “If a charge filed with the Commission under this chapter is dismissed or the proceedings of the Commission are otherwise terminated by the Commission, the Commission shall notify the person aggrieved. A civil action may be brought under this section by a person defined in Section 630(a) of this title against the respondent named in the charge within 90 days after the date of the receipt of such notice.” DuBois found that the section is irrelevant to Turton’s case since it addresses only those cases in which the EEOC dismisses or otherwise terminates a claim. The purpose of the section, he found, is to set a 90-day limit for suing in court after the EEOC proceedings are concluded. “However, the ADEA does not require that a right-to-sue letter be obtained before filing suit,” DuBois wrote. DuBois found that the defense had cited only Title VII cases in making its argument. Likewise, DuBois found that Judge Hutton’s decision in Farahmand cited only cases that had discussed Title VII before holding that both Title VII and the ADEA require that a plaintiff file charges with the EEOC and receive a right-to-sue letter before filing a complaint in federal court.

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