APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, AUBREY E. ROBINSON, JR., J. [718 A2d Page 154]
Before Wagner, Chief Judge, King, Associate Judge,
Retired,[fn*] and Mack, Senior Judge.
[fn*] Judge King was an Associate Judge of the court at the time of
argument. His status changed to Associate Judge, Retired, on
September 1, 1998.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: King, Associate Judge.
Leslie East ("East") brought an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against her former employer, Graphic Arts Industry Joint Pension Trust ("JPT"), under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA" or "Act"), D.C.Code §§ 1-2501 to -2557 (1992 Repl. & 1998 Supp.), alleging that she was wrongfully dismissed from her job on account of her gender, pregnancy and family responsibility. *fn1 At issue here may be whether DCHRA's one-year statute of limitations is equitably tolled by an employer's failure to post notice [718 A2d Page 155]
of an employee's rights pursuant to DCHRA as required under the Act. *fn2
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, concluding that a question of District of Columbia law was determinative of the issue and that no controlling precedent existed in the decisions of this court, certified to this court under D.C.Code § 11-723(a) *fn3 the following question:
Under District of Columbia law, and upon the facts described below, does an employer's failure to comply with the notice-posting requirements of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA" or "Act"), D.C.Code Ann. § 1-2522 (1992), provide a justification for the equitable tolling of the Act's one-year statute of limitations for the filing of a private cause of action?
East v. Graphic Arts Indus. Joint Pension Trust, 323 U.S.App.D.C. 278, 107 F.3d 911 (1997). We conclude that, even assuming the applicability of equitable tolling principles where the employer fails to post notice in compliance with the Act, equitable tolling would not be available where, as here, plaintiff failed to file the court action within a reasonable time after she obtained — or by due diligence could have obtained — the information necessary to file her complaint.
East began her employment with JPT in November 1992. *fn4 Her responsibilities included secretarial and administrative work. Soon after her employment began, East learned that she was pregnant. She maintains that her pregnancy did not affect her ability to perform her job, and that her superiors commended her numerous times on the quality and promptness of her work. In March 1993, East's immediate supervisor Arthur Dinkin became aware that East was pregnant. On March 19, 1993, Dinkin told East that she was being terminated because "it wasn't working out." East received no further explanation for the termination, despite her repeated requests for an explanation.
East claims that she first learned of DCHRA at a social event on March 6, 1994, nearly a year after she was terminated. The next day, East telephoned the District of Columbia Department of Human Rights ("DHR") and learned of the procedure for filing an administrative complaint. She received the forms in the mail and completed and returned them in person on March 15, 1994, just days before the expiration of the one-year limitations period for filing an administrative complaint under DCHRA. *fn5 East claimed that she was unaware at that time of her right to file a discrimination suit in court under DCHRA. *fn5 [718 A2d Page 156]
In June 1994, East consulted with an attorney who informed her of her right to file a discrimination suit in a District of Columbia court. On March 3, 1995, nine months after learning from the attorney of her right to file suit and nearly two years after the alleged discriminatory event occurred, East brought this action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. *fn6
According to East and two former JPT employees, there were no notices posted at JPT informing employees of their rights under DCHRA or any of the federal civil rights statutes. *fn7
DCHRA contains no express provisions for tolling the Act's one-year statute of limitations. See D.C.Code § 1-2544. Further, the District of Columbia is one of a minority of jurisdictions that has not adopted a general equitable "saving" statute to toll statutes of limitations in cases of reasonable mistake. See Bond v. Serano, 566 A.2d 47, 48, 52 (Farrell, J., concurring) (D.C. 1989). Thus, we have refused to toll the statute of limitations in the case of plaintiff's good faith mistake of forum. Sayyad v. Fawzi, 674 A.2d 905 (D.C. 1996) (filing of a timely complaint, which is later dismissed without prejudice because plaintiff failed to properly serve defendants, does not toll statute of limitations); Bond, supra, 566 A.2d 47 (filing of a diversity action against the District of Columbia in federal court does not toll statute of limitations even where subsequent unrelated case held that federal courts lacked pendent party jurisdiction over the District of Columbia resulting in dismissal of the diversity action). We have also said that
[r]ejection of the application of equitable tolling on a case-by-case basis, where a trial judge would weigh the diligence of the defaulting party against any prejudice to the opponent of the suit, rests on the belief that where the legislature has provided no savings statute, courts would exceed their prescribed role ...