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Owens v. District of Columbia

April 29, 2010

REBECCA OWENS, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB5671-06) (Hon. Jennifer M. Anderson, Trial Judge).

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

Argued March 24, 2010

Before KRAMER, FISHER, and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges.

Granting the District of Columbia's motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Superior Court dismissed appellant's suit (which alleged violations of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA)) because she had not filed timely notice of her claim as required by D.C. Code § 12-309 (2001). We agree that § 12-309 applies to suits for unliquidated damages against the District of Columbia under the DCHRA, and therefore affirm.*fn1

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Rebecca Owens alleged that, while employed at the Department of Mental Health (DMH), she was unable to work from March until September 2004 due to carpal tunnel syndrome. When she returned to work on September 20, 2004,she requested a reasonable accommodation, which the DMH denied. In November 2004, Ms. Owens complained internally about this denial, and asserted that her workplace duties and the authority she previously enjoyed had been revoked. The most recent instance of allegedly discriminatory or retaliatory action occurred when she requested a promotion, which the DMH denied on March 2, 2005.

On March 18, 2005, sixteen days after she was denied the promotion, Ms. Owens completed a DMH Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office complaint form. The EEO office finalized its report approximately ten months later and, shortly thereafter, on February 10, 2006, Ms. Owens filed an administrative complaint with the Office of Human Rights (OHR). The OHR dismissed the complaint as "not timely" on May 9, 2006.On July 19, 2006, Ms. Owens sent a letter to the Mayor (received at the Office of Risk Management (ORM) that same day) purporting to satisfy the statutory notice requirements of D.C. Code § 12-309 (2001). Ms. Owens filed this lawsuit alleging unlawful employment practices in violation of the DCHRA, D.C. Code § 2-1402.11,on July 20, 2006.

II. Section 12-309 Notice

A. Standard of Review

Compliance with § 12-309 is a question of law that we consider de novo. Wharton v. District of Columbia, 666 A.2d 1227, 1230 (D.C. 1995). We also review de novo a grant of judgment on the pleadings. Wilson Courts Tenants Ass'n v. 523-525 Mellon St., LLC, 924 A.2d 289, 292 (D.C. 2007).

B. Application to the DCHRA

Ms. Owens contends that § 12-309 does not apply to suits brought against the District of Columbia under the DCHRA. Although we have not previously addressed this issue, several Superior Court judges and judges of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia have held that § 12-309 applies "to statutory claims, including DCHRA claims."

Byrd v. District of Columbia, 538 F. Supp. 2d 170, 175-76 (D.D.C. 2008) ("[Plaintiffs'] DCHRA claims -- to the extent they seek unliquidated damages -- are dismissed for failure to provide mandatory notice."; citing cases ...


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