High Court Revives Age-Bias Case in First Ruling of Term

WASHINGTON (CN) – Just a month after hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court voted unanimously Wednesday to revive a fired worker’s age-discrimination claims.

The controversy erupted when attorneys for Charmaine Hamer withdrew from her case after it was dismissed in federal court.

Hamer ordinarily would have 30 days to appeal but she was offered an extension by the District Court, owing to her representation situation, and she filed her appeal before the extended deadline.

After taking a closer look at Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4, however, the Seventh Circuit still marked that filing late.

Unlike Section 2107 of U.S. Code Title 28, which does not include a time limit, Rule 4 stipulates that “no extension … may exceed 30 days after the prescribed time or 14 days after the date when the order granting the motion is entered, whichever is later.”

With the Seventh Circuit finding that Rule 4 stripped the court of jurisdiction to hear the case, the Supreme Court intervened to determine whether Rule 4’s time limit is jurisdictional or a claim-processing rule that courts can waive.

It settled on the latter Wednesday in the court’s first ruling of the term.

“The rule of decision our precedent shapes is both clear and easy to apply: If a time prescription governing the transfer of adjudicatory authority from one Article III court to another appears in a statute, the limitation is jurisdictional; otherwise, the time specification fits within the claim-processing category,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court.

Ginsburg notes in the 10-page ruling that the Seventh Circuit here followed a common misinterpretation of the 2007 case Bowles v. Russell.

“Several Courts of Appeals, including the Court of Appeals in Hamer’s case, have tripped over our statement in Bowles that ‘the taking of an appeal within the prescribed time is “mandatory and jurisdictional,”’” she wrote. “The ‘mandatory and jurisdictional’ formulation is a characterization left over from days when we were ‘less than meticulous’ in our use of the term ‘jurisdictional.’ The statement was correct as applied in Bowles because, as the court there explained, the time prescription at issue in Bowles was imposed by Congress. But ‘mandatory and jurisdictional’ is erroneous and confounding terminology where, as here, the relevant time prescription is absent from the U.S. Code.”

In issuing the decision this morning, Ginsburg lived up to the nickname the 84-year-old justice gave herself this past September during a speech at Georgetown University’s law school.

Ginsburg called herself as “Rapid Ruth” and referred to Justice Sonia Sotomayor as “Swift Sonia.”

The Supreme Court’s latest term kicked off just last month, and arguments on the Hamer case occurred on Oct. 10.

Hamer, a former intake specialist, brought her suit in Illinois against Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago and Fannie Mae’s National Mortgage Help Center.

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