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Fisher v. Quaker Oats Co.

Decided: May 19, 1989.

ROSCOE D. FISHER, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE QUAKER OATS COMPANY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Gaulkin and Bilder. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bilder, J.A.D.

Bilder

[233 NJSuper Page 320] On this appeal we must determine whether the six-year period permitted for the filing of an age discrimination complaint under our Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq.; see Nolan v. Otis Elevator Co., 197 N.J. Super. 468, 473-474 (App.Div.1984), rev'd on other grounds, 102 N.J. 30 (1986), cert. den., 479 U.S. 820, 107 S. Ct. 84, 93 L. Ed. 2d 38 (1986), has been preempted by the shorter limitation period of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.A. § 621 et seq. Plaintiff Roscoe

Fisher appeals from an order of the Law Division dismissing his age discrimination action as time-barred because it was brought after the expiration of the federal limitation period.

I.

According to his complaint, plaintiff worked for defendant Quaker Oats Company from 1972 until 1985. From about July 1978, he was the New York Territory Manager of defendant's frozen foods sales department. On April 1, 1985 he was terminated without reason. He alleges he was terminated because of his then age, 49 1/2, in violation of the NJLAD.

II.

We are satisfied that the trial court's reliance upon Nolan v. Otis Elevator Co., 102 N.J. 30 (1986) was misplaced. The question there was whether the limitation period of NJLAD was preempted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C.A. § 1001 et seq. Nolan, 102 N.J. at 32. As Justice O'Hern noted, ERISA sought federal uniformity; it displaced all state regulation. Id. at 38. "[ERISA] includes one of the most sweeping preemption provisions ever contained in any federal program." Ibid. The question with which we are concerned was specifically distinguished.

The critical question is not whether the ADEA preempts the NJLAD in a suit brought in state court. The critical question is whether the suit brought under the longer period of limitation, without any state mediative process, furthers the goals of the ADEA so as to escape ERISA preemption. [ Id. at 46].

III.

Unlike ERISA, which specifically supplanted all state regulation, see 29 U.S.C.A. § 1144a, ADEA represents cooperative federalism. Congress not only preserved State antidiscrimination jurisdiction but required initial federal deference where appropriate state relief is available. See 29 U.S.C.A. § 633. As with Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.A.

§ 2000e et seq. (which covered race, color, religion, sex and national origin), ADEA preserved existing age discrimination laws and guaranteed to the states having such laws an initial opportunity to resolve charges of discriminatory conduct. See Simpson v. Alaska State Com'n for Human Rights, 423 F. Supp. 552, 556 (D. Alaska 1976), aff'd, 608 F.2d 1171 (9th Cir.1979); Maine Human Rights Com'n v. Kennebec Water Power, 468 A.2d 307, 310 (Me.1983); also Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 468-469, 102 S. Ct. 1883, 1890-91, 72 L. Ed. 2d 262 (1982). Congressional intent to recognize consistent state legislation ...


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