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Court to Decide Job Bias Case from Illinois

November 6, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether lawsuits charging employers with violating a key federal anti-bias law must be filed in federal, rather than state, courts.

The justices said they will review a $27,000 judgment won by a Chicago Ridge, Ill., woman against the Yellow Freight System Co., the trucking company she works for.

Lawyers for Yellow Freight are urging the justices to rule that Coleen Donnelly waited too long before filing a lawsuit invoking a federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that bars on-the-job discrimination.

Mrs. Donnelly’s lawsuit invoked the federal law within a required 90-day deadline but the case at that time was in an Illinois state court. Lawyers for Yellow Freight said that does not meet the deadline requirement because, its appeal contends, federal courts have exclusive authority to hear Title VII cases.

Some federal appeals courts have ruled that such suits must be filed in federal court, but the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that state courts have co-existing authority to hear Title VII cases.

The 7th Circuit court noted that Congress, in passing Title VII, did not say whether lawsuits invoking the law must be filed in federal court.

″Unless Congress includes ... an explicit statement vesting jurisdiction exclusively in federal court, state courts may presume that they share jurisdiction concurrently with the federal courts over a federal cause of action,″ the appeals court said.

Mrs. Donnelly applied to Yellow Freight for a job as a dockworker in October 1982. Although the company was not hiring at the time, Mrs. Donnelly was told she would be the next dockworker hired.

Although Yellow Freight began hiring dockworkers again in February 1983, Mrs. Donnelly was told repeatedly that the company was not hiring.

She was hired 18 months after the February 1983 start-up of hiring.

Mrs. Donnelly in early 1985 filed charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging sexual bias in Yellow Freight’s delay in hiring her.

The commission issued a right-to-sue notice on March 15, 1985 - triggering a 90-day deadline.

Mrs. Donnelly sued in state court within the deadline. But her original lawsuit did not allege a Title VII violation, only a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act.

The suit later was amended to include allegations of a Title VII violation.

After Yellow Freight had the case transferred to federal court, Mrs. Donnelly was awarded $27,656.6l in back pay and prejudgment interest.

The case is Yellow Freight System vs. Donnelly, 89-431.