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ADEA Class Action Defense Cases-Breen v. Peters: District of Columbia Federal Court Denies Motion To Add 20 New Plaintiffs To ADEA Class Action And Denies Former Plaintiff’s Motion To Rejoin Class Action

Motion to Intervene in Class Action under Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) Denied because of Failure to Comply with Statutory Deadline for Filing Notice of Intent to Sue and Former Plaintiff’s Motion to Rejoin Class Action Fails as Time-Barred District of Columbia District Court Holds

Plaintiffs, air traffic controllers, filed a putative class action against their federal employer alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), following a February 2005 work force reduction that would, and did, result in their termination in October 2005. Breen v. Peters, 529 F.Supp.2d 24, 2008 WL 62626, *1 (D.D.C. 2008). Plaintiffs bypassed the administrative complaint process, provided the requisite 30-day notice of intent to sue, see 29 U.S.C. § 633a(d), and in March 2005 filed the class action. Id. Plaintiffs subsequently moved to join 20 individuals as named plaintiffs, and the 20 individuals simultaneously moved for leave to intervene; additionally, one plaintiff dismissed from the class action at his request, filed a motion to be reinstated as a party plaintiff. Id. Oddly, the class action complaint defined an 834-person class by name, attaching as an exhibit a list of each of the individuals on whose behalf the putative class action had been filed. Over the course of the litigation, some class members were added and others were dismissed; however, the 20 individuals seeking leave to intervene were never part of the putative class. Id. Defense attorneys opposed each of these motions, id. The district court denied the motions.

With respect to the 20 individuals, defense attorneys argued that they should be denied leave to join the class, either as named plaintiffs or by intervention, because they failed to comply with the statutory filing deadlines for bringing an ADEA claim. Plaintiffs’ conceded this point, but argued, in essence, that since there were more than 800 members of the putative class, what’s another 20? Breen, at *1. The federal court found unpersuasive the argument that the 20 should be permitted to piggy-back on the timely claims filed by or on behalf of the members of the putative class: The ADEA expressly requires that notice of intent to sue be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the allegedly unlawful act, see 29 U.S.C. § 633a(d), and while this deadline is not jurisdictional and may, under appropriate circumstances, be deemed tolled, “a court should use its equitable power to toll a statutory deadline only in extraordinary and carefully circumscribed circumstances.” Id., at *2. As the moving parties, the 20 individuals bore the burden of persuaded the district court that the statutory deadline had been equitably tolled, but they failed to meet that burden, id. Indeed, they offered no facts in support of their motion but, rather, “argue[d] that they should be treated as having vicariously met the statutory filing deadline, because several hundred plaintiffs in the case did provide timely notice to the defendants of their intent to sue under the ADEA in compliance with 29 U.S.C. § 633a(d).” Id. They argued defendants would not be prejudiced by adding 20 more class members, but they did not counter the argument that they simply sat on their rights as the statutory deadline passed, id. Accordingly, the district court refused the motions seeking to add the 20 individuals to the class action. Id., at *3.

With respect to the motion of the former plaintiff to rejoin the class action, the district court concluded that his claims were now time-barred. Breen, at *3. The court explained that his cause of action “accrued when his termination was announced on February 1, 2005, not when his federal employment actually terminated on October 3, 2005.” Id., at *4. By voluntarily withdrawing from the class action, the former plaintiff “assumed the position of one who had never filed a civil action” and his voluntary dismissal “did not toll the running of the limitation period,” id. At the time of his May 2007 motion to rejoin the class action, then, his discrimination claim was time-barred, thus compelling denial of his motion. Id.

The district court summarized its holdings at page 4 as follows: “Because the twenty individuals who now want to join or intervene in this action did not file a notice of intent to sue within 180 days of the alleged unlawful action as is required by the statute under which they wish to proceed, and they have not shown cause for excusing their default, the motions to join and to intervene will be denied. Because [the former plaintiff’s] claim is time-barred under either limitations period urged by the parties, his motion to be reinstated as plaintiff will be denied.” Id., at *4.

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