United States District Court, District of Columbia
November 6, 2002
EVELYN HILL, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton, United States District Judge
This matter comes before the Court upon defendant's motion for summary
judgment. Specifically, the defendant asserts that due to the plaintiffs'
failure to exhaust their administrative remedies as required by Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16
(2000), this Court should grant summary judgment in favor of the
defendant. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and for the
reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the defendant's motion for
I. Factual Background
The plaintiffs aptly note that this case has come before the Court
"through a circuitous route." Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pls.' Opp'n") at 9. The plaintiffs are
both African-American females employed by the defendant as computer shift
supervisors in the defendant's Management Information Services.
Complaint ("Compl.") at 2. The basis of the plaintiffs' complaint is
that the supervisor of the defendant's Operations and Production Control
branch allegedly treated those workers assigned to the Operations
section, which is where the plaintiffs worked and at the time of
their employment was comprised of all black employees, differently than the
employees assigned to the Production Control, which consisted primarily
of white employees.*fn1 Id. at 3. In addition, the plaintiffs
reference numerous other alleged acts of discrimination, including an
improper reprimand, harassment for taking sick leave, poor evaluations,
reassignment to "assignments that were much more time consuming than
their normal tasks," improper investigations, retaliation, improper
suspensions, failure to receive pay increases, and improper termination.
Id. at 4-8. Each plaintiff filed a Notice of Charge of Discrimination
with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC")
on either July 16, 1997 or July 24, 1997. Defendant's Statement of
Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue of Dispute ("St. of
Mat. Facts") ¶¶ 3-4. Both plaintiffs subsequently sent a Request for
Right to Sue to the EEOC on July 28, 1997. Id. ¶ 5. On August 11,
1997, the EEOC sent the plaintiffs' files to the Department of Justice
("DOJ") and requested that the DOJ issue right to sue letters to the
plaintiffs. Id. ¶ 6. The plaintiffs were issued notices of right to
sue letters on September 8, 1997 and September 26, 1997. Id. ¶ 7.
During this time period, the plaintiffs were also attempting to gain
class certification along with other allegedly aggrieved individuals in
another suit that had been filed in this Court, but on March 29, 1999,
another member of this Court denied class certification and ordered that
the plaintiffs would have to file individual cases. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.
Subsequently, the plaintiffs in this case filed a complaint with this
Court on June 18, 1999, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation.
Id. ¶ 11. However, the plaintiffs later moved to dismiss that case
without prejudice following the District of Columbia Circuit's opinion in
Martini v. Federal Nat'l Mortgage Ass'n, 178 F.3d 1336 (D.C. Cir. 1999),
realizing that this Circuit's opinion in Martini adversely affected the
maintainability of their claims because they had not been pending before
the EEOC for the required 180 days. Pls.' Opp'n at 10-11. Plaintiffs'
complaint was dismissed without prejudice by another member of this Court
on July 28, 2000, with the understanding that "Plaintiff[s] may file a
new complaint after the Commission has attempted to resolve Plaintiff[s']
charge[s] for an additional 134 days." St. of Mat. Facts ¶ 13. As
discussed below, the defendant takes exception with the plaintiffs'
position that they informed the EEOC of the status of their case
(voluntary dismissal without prejudice) and requested that the EEOC
process their charges for an additional 134 days. Pl.'s Opp'n at 11.
After waiting for the additional 134 days, the plaintiffs subsequently
re-filed their complaint in this case on May 29, 2001.
II. Standard of Review: Summary Judgment
Summary Judgment is generally appropriate when "the pleadings,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as
a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In assessing a Summary Judgment
motion, the Supreme Court has explained that a trial court must look to
the substantive law of the claims at issue to determine whether a fact is
"material", Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986),
and must treat a "genuine issue" as "one whose resolution could establish
an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of
the action", Sanders v. Veneman, 211 F. Supp.2d 10, 14 (D.D.C. 2002)
(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248). While it is generally understood that when considering a
motion for summary judgment a court must "draw all justifiable inferences
in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence
as true," Greene v. Amritsar Auto Servs. Co., 206 F. Supp.2d 4, 7
(D.D.C. 2002) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255), the non-moving party
must establish more than "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence
in support of the plaintiff's position", Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. To
prevail on a summary judgment motion, the moving party must demonstrate
that the non-moving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and
on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex,
477 U.S. at 322. The District of Columbia Circuit has stated that the
non-moving party may not rely solely on mere conclusory allegations.
Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Harding v. Gray,
9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Thus, "[i]f the evidence is merely
colorable, (citation omitted), or is not significantly probative,
(citation omitted), summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477
U.S. at 249-50.
III. Legal Analysis
The defendant seeks summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiffs
have not exhausted their administrative remedies under Title VII.
However, for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that summary
judgment is not proper because not only is there a genuine issue as to a
material fact regarding whether the plaintiffs exhausted their
administrative remedies, but also because the defendant has not satisfied
its affirmative burden of proving such a failure to exhaust.
(A) The Appropriateness of Summary Judgment
It is undisputed that plaintiffs filed their original complaint
prematurely in light of the District of Columbia Circuit's opinion in
Martini. Upon realizing this error, plaintiffs' moved the Court to
dismiss their complaint without prejudice. Another member of this Court
dismissed the original complaint on July 28, 2000, without prejudice,
Plaintiffs' Charges of Discrimination were filed with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on July
24, 1997. The initial Notice of Right to Sue was
issued on September 8, 1997, 46 days later. Thus 134
days of the 180 day period required by
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) remain to be exhausted.
Plaintiff may file a new complaint after the
Commission has attempted to resolve Plaintiff's charge
for an additional 134 days.
Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot."), Exhibit ("Ex.") 14 (Order
dismissing C.A. No. 99-1629). Although 134 days elapsed between the date
when the Order of dismissal was issued and when the plaintiffs re-filed
their complaint with this
Court on May 29, 2001, defendant argues that
"plaintiffs have still failed to secure right to sue letters from the EEOC
and/or the Department of Justice [after the expiration of the 180 day
period]." Id. at 10. The defendant correctly notes that the rationale
behind the 180 day waiting requirement is to give the EEOC enough time to
"informally resolve as many charges as possible." Id. (citing Martini,
178 F.3d at 1338). And, the defendant asserts that no "meaningful"
investigation occurred with regards to the plaintiffs' discrimination
charges because it appears from the original right to sue letters that
the EEOC did not conduct an investigation,*fn2
but dismissed it after 51
days for administrative convenience. "Such treatment[, the defendant
opines,] fails to comply with this Court's [Judge Royce Lamberth's]
reading in Martini of 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-5(b) that the EEOC
investigate every charge filed with this office." Id. at 11. The
defendant further alleges that the plaintiffs failed to correspond with
either the EEOC or the DOJ in an attempt to resolve this matter. Id.
In response, the plaintiffs have submitted an August 15, 2000 letter
that their attorney sent to the EEOC requesting that the EEOC process
their charges "for at least another 134 days." Pls.' Opp'n, Ex. 4.
Thus, plaintiffs assert that while the defendant "contends that [they]
did not give EEOC proper time to carry out its investigation . . . the
letter from Plaintiffs' counsel to [the EEOC] points to a different
conclusion, that is, EEOC did receive the proper notice required." Pls.
Opp'n at 14-15. In its Reply, the defendant states that "[t]he mere fact
that 180 days has expired is not sufficient." Defendant Washington
Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to
WMATA's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Reply") at 2. The defendant
alleges that the letter submitted by the plaintiffs, "[a]ssuming arguendo
. . . [that it] was in fact forwarded to and received by the EEOC . . .[,]
does nothing to show that this case was reopened by the EEOC or that
an attempt to further investigate for the additional 134 days was made by
the EEOC." Id. at 3. Furthermore, the defendant states that it
discovered that the plaintiffs' files were transferred to the EEOC
warehouse on May 21, 2001, and subsequently destroyed, and "[t]he fact
that both files have been destroyed by the EEOC is clearly indicative of
inactivity by the EEOC with regard to these charges." Id. Moreover, the
defendant claims that because an EEOC attorney stated that she could not
comment on the plaintiffs' August 15, 2000 letter, since the EEOC
employee who it was addressed to no longer works for the EEOC, "is
indicative that there is no record of receipt of such letter with the
office." Id. This, the defendant contends, demonstrates that "[t]here
is nothing to indicate that the correspondence from [the plaintiffs] to
. . . the EEOC was in fact received and resulted in an investigation for
an additional 134 days as required by Judge Lamberth's Order and
Martini." Id. In addition, defendant claims that there is no subsequent
right to sue letter issued by the EEOC that would "indicate the files
were in fact reopened and that there was an attempt at
an additional 134 days." Id. at 3-4. And, therefore, the defendant
[t]he mere fact that [the plaintiffs] allege [they]
forwarded this correspondence to . . . the EEOC is not
sufficient [and i]n order to survive [the defendant's]
Motion for Summary Judgment the Plaintiffs' must
show that the EEOC reopened the files and that there
was an attempt to investi[gate] and/or conciliate
these charges for an additional 134 days as required
by Martini and Judge Lamberth's Order dated July 28,
Def.'s Reply at 4.
Because this Court must "draw all justifiable inferences in the
nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as
true," Amritsar Auto Servs., 206 F. Supp.2d at 7 (citing Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255), it must accept as true that the plaintiffs forwarded a
request to the EEOC for the processing of their charges subsequent to the
dismissal of their earlier complaint. And since exhaustion of
administrative remedies, including the processing of charges by the
EEOC, is required prior to filing a civil suit in federal court, the
Court finds that whether continued processing of the plaintiffs' charges
was requested is a "material fact". Such treatment is consistent with
another member of this Court's analysis in Rochon v. Attorney General of
the United States, 734 F. Supp. 543 (D.D.C. 1990). In Rochon, the Court
treated disputed factual claims regarding the timeliness of the
plaintiff's mandatory notification to the defendant's Equal Employment
Opportunity ("EEO") counselor about alleged discriminatory conduct as a
material fact. Id. at 547-49. In Rochon, the defendant had sought
summary judgment because the plaintiff allegedly failed to timely notify
an EEO counselor of purported Title VII violations. However, the Court
found that because it was not provided all of the plaintiff's EEO
records, there was "a genuine issue of material fact as to whether
plaintiff was timely in contacting an EEO counselor about all of the Title
VII violations alleged in his judicial complaint." Id. at 549.
Similarly, in this case, there is an issue as to whether the plaintiffs
exhausted their administrative remedies prior to filing this action.
While the defendant claims that the plaintiffs failed to notify and
request that the EEOC continue to investigate and process their charges
for an additional 134 days, the plaintiffs, in response, have submitted a
letter that indicates that they forwarded such a request for additional
processing of their charges. Clearly, under these circumstances, the
granting of summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs have not
exhausted their administrative remedies would be improper because there
is a material fact in dispute on this question.
(B) Has Defendant Adequately Demonstrated an Affirmative Defense?
The District of Columbia Circuit has stated that the EEOC has been
given "broad authority to enforce [Title VII's] antidiscrimination
mandate within the federal government, including responsibility for
issuing regulations to control federal agencies' processing of
discrimination complaints." Bowden v. United States, 106 F.3d 433, 437
(D.C. Cir. 1997) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(b)). It is axiomatic
that "[c]omplainants must timely exhaust these administrative remedies
before bringing their claims to court." Id. (citing Brown v. GSA,
425 U.S. 820, 832-33 (1976); Bayer v. United States Dept. of the
Treasury, 956 F.2d 330, 332 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). Individuals "who fail
to comply, to the letter, with administrative deadlines `ordinarily will
be denied a judicial audience.'" Brown v. Marsh, 777 F.2d 8, 14 (D.C.
Cir. 1985) (quoting Shehadeh v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.,
595 F.2d 711, 727 (D.C. Cir. 1978)). Administrative time limits
contained in Title VII are not "jurisdictional bars to bringing suit . . .
but function like statutes of limitations, [and] these time limits
are [therefore] subject to equitable tolling, estoppel, and waiver."
Marsh, 777 F.2d at 14 (citations omitted). In this Circuit it is clear
that "[b]ecause untimely exhaustion of administrative remedies is an
affirmative defense, the defendant bears the burden of pleading and
proving it. If the defendant meets its burden, the plaintiff then bears
the burden of pleading and proving facts supporting equitable avoidance
of the defense." Bowden, 106 F.3d at 437 (citations omitted).
In this case, the defendant attempts to assert the affirmative defense
of exhaustion of administrative remedies, claiming that the plaintiffs
"must show that the EEOC reopened the files and that there was an attempt
to investi[gate] and/or conciliate these charges for an additional 134
days as required by Martini and Judge Lamberth's Order dated July 28,
2000." Def.'s Reply at 4. This Court finds that a discussion of the
District of Columbia Circuit's opinion in Martini is a necessary
predicate prior to examining whether the defendant has satisfied its
burden of proving that the plaintiffs have not exhausted their
(1) The District of Columbia Circuit's Opinion in Martini
In Martini, the defendant's appeal arose from the district court's
denial of its pre- and post-trial motions "challeng[ing] the timeliness
of [the plaintiff's] suit under section 2000e-5(f)(1) of Title VII."
Martini, 178 F.3d at 1339. Specifically, the defendant in Martini
attacked the EEOC regulation that permitted the Commission to authorize a
private cause of action
at any time prior to the expiration of 180 days from
the date of filing the charge with the Commission;
provided, that [an appropriate Commission official]
has determined that it is probable that the Commission
will be unable to complete its administrative
processing of the charge within 180 days from the
filing of the charge.
Id. (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 1601.28(a)(2) (1998)). The defendant in
Martini asserted that the language of Title VII "sets forth the exclusive
conditions under which a  complainant may sue: Either the Commission
must dismiss the charge, or 180 days must elapse without informal
resolution of the charge or an EEOC lawsuit."*fn3 Id. at 1340-41.
After examining the statutory language and the legislative history of
Title VII, the District of Columbia Circuit agreed and
conclude[d] that the EEOC's power to authorize private
suits within 180 days undermines its express statutory
duty to investigate every charge filed, as well as
Congress's unambiguous policy of encouraging informal
resolution of charges up to the 180th day . . . [and
held] that Title VII complainants must wait 180 days
after filing charges with the EEOC before they may sue
in federal court.
Id. at 1347. Therefore, because the EEOC had stopped processing the
plaintiff's charge after 21 days, the Martini Court remanded the case and
district court to dismiss the case without prejudice so as
to afford the plaintiff the opportunity to re-file a complaint with the
court only after the EEOC was given 159 additional days to attempt to
resolve the plaintiff's claims. Id. at 1348.
(2) Plaintiffs' Case and Martini
During the course of the plaintiffs' earlier case, and following this
Circuit's opinion in Martini, the plaintiffs sought and were granted a
dismissal of their original complaint without prejudice. Because the
"Notice[s] of Right to Sue" were issued by the EEOC 46 days after the
filing of the plaintiffs' charges, the Court stated that "134 days of the
180 day period required by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) remain to be
exhausted . . . [and] [p]laintiff[s] may file a new complaint after the
Commission has attempted to resolve Plaintiff[s'] charge for an
additional 134 days." Def.'s Mot., Ex. 14. Although the defendant
insinuates that the plaintiffs never actually contacted the EEOC to
afford the Commission an additional 134 days to attempt to resolve the
plaintiffs' charges, as discussed above, the plaintiffs have submitted a
letter dated August 15, 2000, addressed to the EEOC, that requested
additional processing of their charges for another 134 days. Pls.'
Opp'n, Ex. 4.
The defendant seemingly asserts that the plaintiffs not only had to
give the EEOC the opportunity to investigate their charges for an
additional 134 days, but under Martini must also show that the EEOC in
fact attempted to investigate these charges during that period. Def.'s
Reply at 4. However, the defendant has failed to point to any legal
authority as support for its position that the plaintiffs were required
to do anything more than what was done in this case. The District of
Columbia Circuit's opinion in Martini requires that the EEOC must have
discrimination charges before it for 180 days prior to a plaintiff filing
a civil action in this Court. While the Martini Court recognized that
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) states that the EEOC "shall" investigate the
charges, and that this duty is "mandatory and unqualified", it is clear
that the Court did not impose an affirmative burden upon a plaintiff who
has filed a civil suit after the expiration of the 180 day period to show
that the EEOC actually carried out its legislative mandate. This is
evident in the Martini Court's distinction between how it viewed
authorizations issued by the EEOC for complainants to initiate private
civil actions when their claims have not yet been fully investigated
prior to the expiration of the 180 day period, as compared to like
circumstances when they occur after 180 days have elapsed. Commenting on
the two situations, the Martini Court stated that "issuance of a . . .
right-to-sue letter" to a complainant by the EEOC, which will have the
practical effect of terminating the administrative proceedings by the
agency, "comports with congressional intent" when it occurs "after 180
days", but "conflicts with [Title VII's] unambiguous command" for the
EEOC to investigate discrimination claims that are submitted to it when
authorization to sue is granted "prior to [the expiration of] 180 days."
178 F.3d at 1345. The Court noted that "Congress well understood that
the EEOC's limited resources preclude it from investigating every charge
within 180 days, (citation omitted), but nevertheless `hoped that
recourse to the private lawsuit will be the exception and not the rule.'"
Id. at 1346 (citation omitted). Thus, it is clear that Congress
anticipated that private lawsuits would be appropriately initiated in
Title VII cases when the EEOC has failed to investigate discrimination
all the Martini Court ruled was that this could not
occur before a claim had been pending before the EEOC for at least 180
days. Id. ("We thus hold that Title VII complainants must wait 180 days
after filing charges with the EEOC before they may sue in federal
This is exactly what the plaintiffs did in this case. After initially
receiving notices of the right to sue and filing a complaint in this
Court, the District of Columbia Circuit's opinion in Martini was issued
and plaintiffs sought and were granted a voluntary dismissal of their
complaint without prejudice in order to give the EEOC the full 180 days
to investigate their charges of discrimination. Once the plaintiffs sent
notice to the EEOC of their circumstances and requested that their
charges be processed, and then waited for the expiration of the entire
180 day period, they did all that is required by Title VII as interpreted
by Martini. Accordingly, this Court finds that the defendant has not
satisfied its burden of proving that the plaintiffs have failed to
exhaust their administrative remedies.
For the aforementioned reasons, this Court must deny the defendant's
motion for summary judgment because not only is there a genuine issue of
material fact regarding whether the plaintiffs exhausted their
administrative remedies, but also because the defendant has not satisfied
its affirmative burden of proving such a failure to exhaust. The
District of Columbia Circuit has observed that "the application of Title
VII's procedural requirements be `animated by the broad humanitarian and
remedial purposes underlying the federal proscription of employment
discrimination.'" Williams v. WMATA, 721 F.2d 1412, 1418 (D.C. Cir. 1983)
(quoting Coles v. Penny, 531 F.2d 609, 616 (D.C. Cir. 1976)). This Court
finds that its ruling is in keeping with these purposes that underlie
SO ORDERED this 7th day of November, 2002.
Upon consideration of the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and
for the reasons set forth in the Memorandum Opinion accompanying this
Order, it is hereby,
ORDERED that the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
SO ORDERED this 7th day of November, 2002.