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Hampton v. Schafer


June 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge


Plaintiff brings this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., alleging that his former employer, the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"), discriminated and retaliated against him both during his employment and in terminating him. Defendant has moved to dismiss certain counts (Counts III and IV) for untimeliness and others (Counts VII - X) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies defendant's motion.


I. Counts III and IV: Timeliness

Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's termination claims because they are untimely. Specifically, defendant contends that the issue of plaintiff's termination was litigated before the Foreign Service Grievance Board ("FSGB"), and plaintiff filed his complaint after the statutory deadline for appealing the FSGB decision. (See Mot. to Dismiss at 4-5.) The problem with defendant's argument is that the FSGB considered only the issue of whether the USDA had established cause for plaintiff's separation. (See Def.'s Ex. A ["FSGB Decision"] at 6.) It did not consider plaintiff's claims that the USDA's stated reasons for terminating him were pretextual and that his termination was a result of racial discrimination and retaliation for his having engaged in activity protected by Title VII.*fn2 Defendant attempts to distinguish between plaintiff's termination claims, which it contends were considered by the FSGB, and plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims, which it contends were considered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). However, no such distinction can be made since plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims and his termination claim are merely two sides to a single coin. Defendant alleges that it had legitimate reasons for terminating plaintiff, while plaintiff alleges that the stated reasons were pretexts for racial discrimination and retaliation.*fn3

II. Counts VII - X: Exhaustion

Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims of hostile work environment and discriminatory leave without pay for failure to exhaust his administrative remedies since, defendant contends, none of these claims was litigated before either the FSGB or the EEOC. (Mot. to Dismiss at 5-6.) Plaintiff, however, made allegations before both the USDA and the EEOC sufficient to give notice to the USDA of his claims; therefore, he has satisfied the exhaustion requirement.

Plaintiff submits documents that indicate that he alleged before the USDA that he had been subjected to a hostile work environment. For example, he submits an "EEO Complaint Input at Intake" form dated July 19, 2004, in which he complains that the Foreign Agriculture Service and a number of its employees "intentionally and personally targeted me for continual prolonged racial discrimination and harassment based on color, gender, age, marital status, skill-set and foreign assignment for career advancement opportunities. This bias [sic] treatment, racial discrimination and continual harassment prejudice [sic] me financially and emotionally." (Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 12 at 3 (emphasis added).) In addition, plaintiff checked off "harassment" as one of the issues about which he was complaining. (Id. Ex. 12 at 1.) Plaintiff filed a formal administrative complaint with the agency regarding these and other discrimination claims on October 30, 2004.*fn4 (See id. Exs. 13-14.) As the D.C. Circuit has recognized, "EEO complaints are to be liberally construed since very commonly they are framed by persons unschooled in technical pleading. . . . [T]he relevant inquiry is not whether the complainant has filed a detailed statement spelling out precisely his objections but whether the actions he did take were adequate to put the [agency] on notice." Brown v. Marsh, 777 F.2d 8, 13 (D.C. Cir. 1985). (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Based on these criteria, plaintiff's claims before the agency were sufficient.*fn5

Moreover, plaintiff raised before the USDA and the EEOC allegations of racial discrimination and reprisal based on the same events that he now claims support his hostile work environment claims. For example, plaintiff complained to the EEOC that his supervisor had referred to him as a "nigger from Mississippi" and to both the USDA and the EEOC that the agency had engaged in a continuing investigation of him. (See Compl. ¶ 17, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 10 at 49-50, 52.) Plaintiff raises these same allegations before this Court to support his hostile work environment claims. (See Compl. ¶¶ 10, 32.) "A Title VII lawsuit following the EEOC charge is limited in scope to claims that are like or reasonably related to the allegations of the charge and growing out of such allegations." Park v. Howard Univ., 71 F.3d 904, 907 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, because the alleged discriminatory conduct plaintiff uses as the foundation for his hostile work environment claims is the same conduct about which he complained before the USDA and the EEOC, plaintiff has adequately exhausted his administrative remedies. Bouknight v. District of Columbia, 538 F. Supp. 2d 44, 49 n.2 (D.D.C. 2008).

Likewise, the record reflects that plaintiff raised allegations regarding his placement on leave without pay. By letter dated September 25, 2006, plaintiff requested that the USDA amend his EEO complaint to include the claim that he had been placed on leave without pay. (See Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 3.) Because his complaint was then pending with the EEOC, the USDA forwarded the amendment request to the EEOC for consideration. (Id.) While, as defendant contends, the leave claims were not litigated before the EEOC, defendant agency was indisputably put on notice of plaintiff's allegations. Moreover, these claims are reasonably related to and grow out of plaintiff's claim of discriminatory termination and retaliation. Park, 71 F.3d at 907.


For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies defendant's motion to dismiss [# 5]. This matter is set for an Initial Scheduling Conference on July 25, 2008, at 10:00 a.m.

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