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Zuurbier v. Medstarhealth

April 6, 2006


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA5800-03). (Hon. James E. Boasberg, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge

Argued February 24, 2006

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and SCHWELB and FISHER, Associate Judges.


From April 1, 1993 until October 14, 2002, Rebecca A. Zuurbier, M.D., was a member of the medical staff at Georgetown University Hospital (the Hospital). Dr. Zuurbier served, inter alia, as the Director of the Breast Imaging Division and as Director of Radiology Resident Education. In her initial complaint, filed on July 15, 2003, against the sole original defendant, MedStar Health, Inc. (MSHI), which purchased the Hospital in 2000, Dr. Zuurbier alleged that throughout the period of her employment at the Hospital, she was significantly underpaid on account of her sex. Dr. Zuurbier asserted claims, inter alia, of constructive discharge and of sex discrimination in employment, all in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA). D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01 et seq. (2001). She further alleged that she and other female professional employees had been subjected to a hostile environment based on sex, also in violation of the DCHRA.*fn1

MSHI filed a motion to dismiss the original complaint, alleging that MSHI was not Dr. Zuurbier's employer. On October 9, 2003, Dr. Zuurbier filed her First Amended Complaint (FAC), in which she joined as defendants two subsidiaries of MSHI, namely, MedStar Georgetown Medical Center, Inc. (MGMCI) and MGMC L.L.C. (MedStar Georgetown Medical Center Limited Liability Company). Following the removal of the case to the United States District Court and its remand to the Superior Court, see note 1, supra, the trial judge granted leave to Dr. Zuurbier to file a Second Amended Complaint (SAC) in which she refined certain allegations made in the FAC.

The two MedStar subsidiaries which had first been joined in Dr. Zuurbier's FAC filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. These defendants asserted, in substance, that with respect to the constructive termination claim, the District of Columbia Human Rights Act's one-year statute of limitations, D.C. Code § 2-1403.16 (a) (2001), began to run on July 15, 2002, the date on which Dr. Zuurbier submitted her resignation; that the FAC in which these subsidiaries were named as defendants was not brought within one year of Dr. Zuurbier's announcement that she would resign; that the FAC did not "relate back" to the date of the initial complaint, see Super. Ct. Civ. R. 15 (c); and that the SAC, which the judge deemed filed as of the date of the FAC, was therefore time-barred as to the two subsidiaries.

The defendants further asserted that Dr. Zuurbier's claim of disparate pay based on her sex was almost entirely barred by the statute of limitations. The defendants argued that each allegedly discriminatory paycheck was a discrete act, and Dr. Zuurbier's suit was untimely with respect to any salary check pre-dating October 14, 2002. The only salary payment received by Dr. Zuurbier within the one-year period preceding the institution of suit was her final check, dated October 31, 2002. According to the defendants, the complaint was otherwise time-barred.

Dr. Zuurbier took the position that the action was timely in all respects. She asserted that the statute of limitations did not begin to run with respect to the claim of constructive discharge until October 14, 2002, when she ceased to work for the Hospital,*fn2 and that her action against all of the defendants had been instituted within a year of her departure. In the alternative, Dr. Zuurbier contended that in the original complaint, the naming of MSHI as the sole defendant constituted a simple error in identifying her employer, and that, in conformity with Rule 15 (c), the FAC and the SAC therefore related back to the date of the original complaint. Dr. Zuurbier also argued that the defendants' alleged sex discrimination in pay against her continued for the entire eight-year period during which she worked at Georgetown University Hospital, affecting every salary payment made to her; that it constituted a "continuing violation" or a "pattern or practice"; and that she was therefore entitled to be made whole in relation to each and every paycheck that she received while she was an employee of the Hospital.

In an order entered on June 16, 2004 (Order No. 1), the trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants with respect to the constructive discharge claim, and he directed further briefing as to the disparate pay claim. In a second order entered on November 16, 2004 (Order No. 2), the judge held that Dr. Zuurbier's claim that she received a lower salary because of her sex was time-barred except as to the paycheck that she received on October 31, 2002.*fn3 The judge also ruled that Dr. Zuurbier could not prevail on a "hostile environment" theory.*fn4

Dr. Zuurbier filed a timely notice of appeal. We reverse Order No. 1. We agree with the judge's reasoning in Order No. 2, but modify that Order to conform to our disposition of the issue decided in Order No. 1; we affirm Order No. 2 as modified.


Dr. Zuurbier contends that the trial court erred in holding that her constructive discharge claim was untimely. She argues that the FAC and the SAC relate back to the date of the initial complaint, which was filed on July 15, 2003. We agree.*fn5

Rule 15 (c) of the Superior Court's Rules of Civil Procedure, which is identical to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 (c), see Pritchett v. Stilwell, 604 A.2d 886, 888 n.2 (D.C. 1992), provides in pertinent part as follows:

An amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . (3) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted . . . and . . . the party to be brought in by amendment (A) has received such notice of the institution of the action that the party will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (B) knew or should have known that, but for ...

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