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05/16/90 MARY FRANCES JONES v. HOWARD UNIVERSITY

May 16, 1990

MARY FRANCES JONES, APPELLANT
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY T/A HOWARD UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Stephen F. Eilperin, Trial Judge

Before Terry, Schwelb and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

Mary F. Jones, the plaintiff below, appeals from an order granting summary judgment to the appellee Howard University dismissing a civil rights action which Ms. Jones had brought pursuant to the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-2501 to -2557 (1987 & 1989 Supp.). Ms Jones had alleged in her complaint that the University had unlawfully discharged her from her job as a dietician at Howard University Hospital on the basis of her physical handicap, which she alleged to be the presence of neuralgia in the left side of her face and tumors in her ovaries and uterus. Although the case raised interesting and novel questions regarding the reach of the Act's proscriptions against handicap discrimination, the trial Judge never reached them, concluding that the complaint was time-barred. We agree and therefore affirm.

Ms. Jones began her career at the Hospital in 1973. More than ten years later, she was fired. On January 4, 1984, her supervisor, Robert E. Gregory, Director of Nutrition and Food Services, handed her a memorandum advising her that her job performance was unsatisfactory and that she had been recommended for termination. The memorandum advised her that "your right to redress is explained in the Howard University Employee Handbook (Non-Faculty)." On January 6, 1984, Ms. Jones acknowledged receipt of the memorandum and requested a prompt hearing pursuant to the University's employee grievance procedures, which were explained in the handbook. On the same day, Jones's counsel addressed a letter to the University's personnel office requesting an immediate grievance hearing and inquiring as to "the power of the Hearing Examiner to suspend the effect of a Recommendation for Termination pending his decision and action thereon."

On January 13, 1984, Mr. Gregory addressed another memorandum to Ms. Jones which stated as follows:

This communication is to confirm the termination of your employment at Howard University Hospital. Accordingly, the effective date of your termination is Saturday, January 14, 1984.

Pursuant to University policy, you are required to turn in to the Director of Nutrition and Food Service all property issued to you by the University. This is inclusive of all keys and your identification badge. Furthermore, it is necessary that you complete this activity by 2:00 p.m., Friday, January 13, 1984.

Ms. Jones testified that her last day of work at Howard was on or about January 13, 1984.

After several delays, a "grievance" hearing was held on three separate days in April and May 1984. At the Conclusion, of the hearing, the hearing examiner recommended to Dr. Carlton P. Alexis, Howard's Vice President for Health Affairs, that Ms. Jones's discharge be upheld. In a letter to Ms. Jones dated June 27, 1984, Dr. Alexis acted in accordance with the hearing examiner's recommendation:

I have reviewed the Formal Grievance Report submitted by Attorney Isiah Leggett, Hearing Examiner, in the hearing on your behalf. You had been employed at the Howard University Hospital since March 1973 and were terminated on January 1984.

I concur in this recommendation [of the hearing examiner] and deny the appeal.

On June 27, 1985, a year after Dr. Alexis' letter, but almost eighteen months after the stated termination date, Ms. Jones filed her complaint in the Superior Court, requesting reinstatement, back pay, compensation for emotional distress, counsel fees and other relief. As previously noted, the trial Judge, Honorable Stephen F. Eilperin, granted the University's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the complaint was untimely.

II

The limitation period for a civil action brought pursuant to the District of Columbia Human Rights Act is one year. Davis v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 449 A.2d 278, 280-81 (D.C. 1982). That period begins to run at the time "of the occurrence of the unlawful discriminatory practice, or the discovery thereof." D.C. Code § 1-2544 (a) (1987). *fn1 Contending that the complaint was not timely, the University asked the trial court to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to grant it summary judgment. Ms. Jones responded that her claim accrued on June 27, 1984, either on the theory that her termination was not final until after the grievance proceedings had run their course, or that for equitable reasons the limitations period was tolled during the pendency of the grievance proceedings. The trial Judge, however, rejected ...


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