case. These plaintiffs, therefore, will not be permitted to
participate in an individual relief phase, should the parties
reach such a phase. They will, however, be able to proceed as
part of the pattern or practice case, offering anecdotal
evidence. With that condition in mind, the Court denies
Mitsubishi's motion for summary judgment on the statute of
limitations question presented under § 707.
(b) The § 706 Case
If the pattern or practice case is allowed to proceed, as this
Court has determined it should, and this Court's analysis of the
§ 707 limitations issue is correct, then any statutory bar to the
§ 706 claims is irrelevant, since these claims will come in under
§ 707. However, in the event that we have erred, a § 706 analysis
is in order.
The Commissioner's § 706 case is based, for purposes of the
statute of limitations question, on three individual charges of
discrimination: (1) the Terry Paz charge filed on November 13,
1992, alleging a pattern or practice of hostile environment
sexual harassment; (2) the Brenda Schillaci charge, filed on July
19, 1993, alleging the same; and (3) the Lena Rector charge,
filed on November 16, 1993, alleging the same.*fn21 According to the
EEOC, these three charges would extend the 300-day limitations
period to January 18, 1992; September 22, 1992; and January 20,
1993, respectively. In other words, for purposes of the § 706
cases, no individual claims that predate January 18, 1992, would
be entitled to relief. The parties appear to agree that a January
18, 1992, time bar would eliminate fifteen women. See Mits. Ex.
NN to Aff. of Paul Betts. See also EEOC Resp. at 47, n. 39.
However, there is no need to eliminate these women from the
proceedings now, since this Court's pattern or practice rulings
keep them in the lawsuit. Unless these rulings are reversed, all
289 plaintiffs remain in this lawsuit for purposes of the pattern
or practice case, and all but the plaintiffs who have already
filed individual claims in federal court in another case, will
proceed to the individual relief stage, if the pattern or
practice case is successful.
Mitsubishi's second procedural challenge is based on the
equitable doctrine of laches. Mitsubishi argues that laches bars
the EEOC's action on behalf of some or all of the claimants based
on the following facts: (1) the Paz charge was not investigated
for 19 months; (2) the Commissioner's charge was based on fewer
than a dozen interviews; (3) the Commissioner's charge did not
provide Mitsubishi with notice regarding specific incidents of
sexual harassment; (4) the EEOC never informed Mitsubishi of any
incident of alleged harassment based on the 91 interviews taken
after the Commissioner filed his charge; (5) the EEOC's
Determination Letter offered no factual support for its findings
and did not provide Mitsubishi with notice regarding specific
complaints; and (6) the EEOC's Complaint was filed 3 1/2 years
after the Paz charge. Based on these facts, Mitsubishi argues
that it has been "severely prejudiced" because it has been
precluded from taking remedial action at the earliest possible
date and its damage exposure has been increased as a result.
These arguments are meritless. First, there is some basis for
questioning whether the laches defense is even available as a
complete bar to an action filed by the EEOC to enforce Title VII.
See E.E.O.C. v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 735 F.2d 69, 80
(3rd Cir. 1984) (because the EEOC is a government agency,
application of laches defense is problematical). Without deciding
that particular question, this Court finds that even if the
laches defense is available, the standards governing application
of the defense have not been met here.
In Great A & P, the Third Circuit summarized the controlling
principles of law to apply in considering a laches defense
against the EEOC in a Title VII case:
[A]ssum[ing,] arguendo, without deciding, that laches
may in some cases bar an EEOC action rather than
simply counsel a modification of the remedy[,] . . .
[t]he elements of the equitable defense of laches are
(1) lack of diligence by the party against whom the
defense is asserted, and
(2) prejudice to the party asserting the defense.
These elements are conjunctive, and since laches is a
defense, the burden of establishing both is on the
defendant. If a statutory limitations period that
would bar legal relief has expired, then the
defendant in an action for equitable relief enjoys
the benefit of a presumption of inexcusable delay and
prejudice. In that case, the burden shifts to the
plaintiff to justify its delay and negate prejudice.
No statute of limitations applies to an EEOC Title
VII action. Thus, the burden remains on [the
defendant] to establish both elements of the defense.
On summary judgment, the movant's affidavits must
establish a prima facie defense of laches.
Id. at 80-81 (citing Occidental Life Ins. Co. v. E.E.O.C.,
432 U.S. 355, 97 S.Ct. 2447, 53 L.Ed.2d 402 (1977)).