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Knoll v. Springfield Township School District

decided: January 27, 1983.

KNOLL, MADELIN H., APPELLANT
v.
SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; ROMAN, LOUIS A., SUPERINTENDENT, SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT; LAWN, JOHN J., HANSHAW, MARIE M., COMMINS, JAMES A., GOREN, SARA LEE, HOCH JR., WILLIAM C., HOGUE JR., E. BURKE, KALISH, SALLY, LIEBERMAN, MAX L. AND TOBIN, HARPUR M., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF SCHOOL DIRECTORS, SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT



Appeal From The United States District Court For The Eastern District Of Pennsylvania.

Aldisert, Gibbons, and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

Until recently, Pennsylvania's omnibus six-year statute of limitations, set forth in the Act of March 27, 1713,*fn1 properly governed employment discrimination suits brought in Pennsylvania under the federal Civil Rights Acts. By 1978, however, Pennsylvania had repealed the Act of 1713 and completely revised its statutes of limitations.*fn2 The major question before us is whether a new six-month statute of limitations governing suits against government officials applies to employment discrimination claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn3 We hold that because application of the six-month limitations period would be inconsistent with the policies and legislative history underlying § 1983, and because none of Pennsylvania's more specific limitations provisions would apply, that the six-year residuary provision of the limitations schema should govern this dispute. We, therefore, reverse that part of the district court's judgment which determined that appellant's § 1983 claim was time-barred after six months. This appeal also asks us to review the district court's rejection of appellant's claim of employment discrimination brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-e-17, as time-barred. We reverse that part of the judgment as well.

I.

For the purposes of our decision, we take as true the material facts alleged in the complaint. They are not complicated. On December 12, 1980, appellant Madelin H. Knoll, a teacher employed by the Springfield Township School District, filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that her employer had discriminated against her on the basis of sex in failing to promote her to several administrative positions. On January 28, 1981, the EEOC issued her a right to sue letter and dismissed the charge as untimely filed. On April 21, 1981, she filed a civil action in the district court against the school district and the individual members of the school board contending that the school district's failure to promote her to the position of Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent in July 1979, and later to Assistant Superintendent in September 1980, violated § 703 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. The complaint further alleged that the individual school directors had acted under color of state law to deny appellant the equal protection of the laws under the fourteenth amendment, in violation of § 1983.*fn4

The school district and the individual members of the school board moved for summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that both claims were barred by statutes of limitations. After oral and written argument, the district court agreed. It ruled that the § 1983 action was time-barred by the new Pennsylvania statute which limits actions against government officials to six months, and that the Title VII claim was time-barred because it was filed more than 180 days from the last discriminatory act which the court determined occurred in July 1979. The district court thus granted the summary judgment motion and dismissed the complaint. From this decision and order, Ms. Knoll appeals.

II.

Appellant's primary contention is that the district court erred in applying Pennsylvania's six-month statute of limitations to her claim of employment discrimination under § 1983. That limitations provision, enacted as part of the new Pennsylvania Judicial Code, provides:

(b) Commencement of action required -- The following actions and proceedings must be commenced within six months:

(1) An action against any officer of any government unit for anything done in the execution of his office, except an action subject to another limitation specified in this subchapter.

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5522(b) (1) (Purdon 1981).

She argues that instead the residuary provision of Pennsylvania's limitations schema should govern her cause of action. That Code provision establishes a six-year limitations period for:

Any civil action or proceeding which is neither subject to another limitation specified in this subchapter nor excluded from the application by a period of limitation by section 5531 (relating to no limitation).

42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5527(6) (Purdon 1981). To support her argument, appellant maintains that the six-month limitations provision is not the most analogous state statute to apply to a § 1983 action, that its application is inconsistent with federal policy, and that the application of different statutes of limitations to ...


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