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Keith v. United States Railroad Retirement Board

September 29, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


This matter comes before the Court upon the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint ("Defs.' Mot.").*fn1 The plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, seeks: (1) a declaratory judgment setting aside a settlement agreement that the plaintiff entered into with her former employer, defendant United States Railroad Retirement Board ("the Board"), or, in the alternative, an order remanding the case back to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and (2) relief under District of Columbia common law declaring the settlement agreement void because the plaintiff allegedly lacked the requisite mental capacity to execute the agreement.*fn2 Complaint ("Compl.") at 1-2, 6-7. The defendants assert that due to the plaintiff's failure to exhaust her administrative remedies by failing to timely raise her mental capacity claim with the EEOC, her complaint should be dismissed. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, the Court must deny the defendants' motion to dismiss because the Court is unable to conclude that as a matter of law the plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies.

I. Factual Background

On March 5, 1996, the plaintiff was involved in a verbal altercation with her supervisor, Michael McCool. Defs.' Mot., Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mem.") at 1. Following this incident, the plaintiff filed an administrative claim with the Board's Office of Equal Opportunity ("OEO"), alleging"Sexual Harassment under Title VII [], a violation of [her] Civil Rights, and a denial of [her] Equal Employment Opportunity." Id. at 2 (citing Exhibit ("Ex.") 1 (OEO Complaint dated March 7, 1996) at 2). On April 1, 1996, the plaintiff's supervisor issued a memorandum entitled Apology for Using Inappropriate Language, in which he stated:"I wish to apologize to you for using some'curse' words during a heated conversation regarding sick leave, which occurred on March 1, 1996. This was inappropriate and I'll make an effort to refrain from using any'curse' words in our future conversations." Id., Ex. 2 (Memorandum from Michael T. McCool to Gerri Keith dated April 1, 1996). On April 17, 1996, the plaintiff entered into an informal settlement agreement with the Board, in which her supervisor"agreed to provide [her] with a letter of apology for using profanity in the course of the confrontation that occurred on March 5, 1996. [The agreement also stated that t]he letter will [] include an assurance that outbursts such as the one which occurred on March 5 will not happen again."*fn3 Id. at 2-3 (citing Ex. 3 (The Board's Notice of Final Interview and Informal Resolution dated April 4, 1996). This notice of informal resolution also provided the plaintiff the following appeal options"if she believed the Agency failed to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement":

(1) request enforcement of the settlement agreement within 30 days of any alleged violation occurring after plaintiff accepted the terms of the settlement;

(2) within 30 days of plaintiff's acceptance of the settlement, request that her informal complaint be reinstated for further processing; or

(3) within 15 days of plaintiff's receipt of the notice, file a discrimination complaint with the Board's OEO.

Id. at 3 (citing Ex. 3).

The apology submitted by her supervisor did not satisfy the plaintiff and on May 17, 1996, she"appealed to the Board's OEO office to reinstate her informal complaint contending that the Agency breached the agreement because she believed that [her supervisor's] written apology did not comply with its terms." Id. at 4 (citing Ex. 4 (Notice of Breach of Informal Resolution dated May 17, 1996)). Specifically, the plaintiff asserted that the

[l]etter was insufficient, because Mr. McCool's letter represents that he'used' curse words, yet he had used those curse words directly towards me and had called me a bitch... [and she pointed out that] the Informal Resolution states that Mr. McCool will provide a letter which will include'assurances that outburst[s] as the one which occurred' will not happen again. The [l]etter only states that Mr. McCool will'make an effort to refrain' from using curse words. Mr. McCool's letter does not make'assurances' that his behavior will not continue, but only states that he will'try.'

Id., Ex. 4. On May 22, 1996, the plaintiff's supervisor issued a second written apology, in which he stated:

I apologize for using curse words during or after our conversation of March 1, 1996,[*fn4] regarding sick leave notification and scheduling. My loss of composure was not appropriate.

I hope this will clarify my earlier apology. You are a valuable part of our working-group here. I have always thought so and continue to believe so. I will not use curse words in our future conversations.

Id., Ex. 5 (Letter from Michael McCool to Geraldine Keith dated May 22, 1996). Following the issuance of this second apology letter, the Board's OEO denied the plaintiff's appeal and her request to reinstate her informal complaint on May 29, 1996, because it found that the"new apology letter addresse[d] all the issues [the plaintiff] raised in [her] breach of agreement letter[,]" and informed her that an appeal of the denial must be ...

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