The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCULLIN
On June 30, 1994, the Court issued a bench decision in this matter which granted defendant partial summary judgment as to some claims and specifically denied defendant's motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds. On March 8, 1995, the Second Circuit decided Vernon v. Cassadaga Valley School Dist., 49 F.3d 886, a case which defendant contends warrants reconsideration and reversal of the Court's earlier decision.
Plaintiff originally brought this action alleging seven causes of action including age discrimination under both the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and the New York Human Rights Law. In its earlier decision, the Court granted partial summary judgment to the defendant on plaintiff's breach of contract, wrongful discharge, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, as well as on plaintiff's request for compensatory and punitive damages under the ADEA. The Court, however, denied defendant's motion with respect to plaintiff's ADEA claims on statute of limitation grounds.
In denying defendant's motion, the Court held that the provision of the 1991 Civil Rights Act that provided for a 90 day statute of limitations for ADEA actions was not to be retroactively applied to actions involving conduct that occurred prior to the effective date of the Act. Additionally, the Court held that, even if the 90 day limit were to be applied, a question of fact existed as to whether plaintiff's action would be subject to equitable tolling.
In Vernon, a group of school teachers brought an ADEA claim against the school district that employed them. There, as in the case at bar, the alleged discriminatory conduct occurred prior to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, but the action was filed after enactment. The question before the Second Circuit, then, was whether the 90 day statute of limitations provided for in the 1991 Act applied to the plaintiffs' ADEA action.
The court held that the 90 day limitation period enacted in the 1991 Act should apply "to claims filed after its enactment, including those in which the cause of action accrued beforehand." Vernon, 49 F.3d at 889. In so holding, the court was guided by the Supreme Court's decision in Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 128 L. Ed. 2d 229, 114 S. Ct. 1483 (1994), a case also relied upon by this Court in its earlier decision in this case.
In light of the Vernon decision, it seems clear that the 90 day statute of limitations should be retroactively applied to the case at bar. Therefore, unless plaintiff's equitable tolling argument still exists, defendant's motion must be granted.
As stated above, in its earlier decision, this Court cited the possibility of equitable tolling of the statute of limitations as an alternate ground for denying defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff argued the applicability of equitable tolling in light of the fact that, prior to initiating this action, he had received three notices from the EEOC each of which stated that he had to file his suit within two years of the date of the alleged discrimination. (In plaintiff's case, by February 13, 1993). The Court accepted this argument as a possible defense stating that "the plaintiff's knowledge and his justifiable reliance on the EEOC's letter ...