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Timothy O'hara v. Ray Lahood

December 23, 2010

TIMOTHY O'HARA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RAY LAHOOD, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION,*FN1 DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff Timothy O'Hara has moved pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to reopen this case, in which the Court entered judgment for the defendant in 2008 after determining that the claims of Mr. O'Hara and a second plaintiff, Malachy Coghlan, were barred by the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007). Mr. O'Hara argues that the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-2, 123 Stat. 5 ("Lilly Ledbetter Act"), warrants vacatur of the Court's order entering judgment for the defendant. He also has moved for leave to amend his complaint to name an additional plaintiff, Lockett K. Yee.

Upon careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the relevant statutory and case law, and the entire record in this case, the Court denied Mr. O'Hara's motion to reopen this case and his motion to name Mr. Yee as a new plaintiff by Order of September 30, 2010. This Opinion sets forth the reasoning underlying that Order.

I. BACKGROUND

Malachy Coghlan filed the original complaint in this case in 2005, naming himself as a representative of a putative class of similarly situated persons and alleging that his employer, the Federal Aviation Administration, an agency within the United States Department of Transportation, had discriminated against him and other FAA employees on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"). See Complaint ¶ 1. Timothy O'Hara was named as a co-plaintiff and second potential class representative in an amended complaint filed in December of 2005. In January of 2006, the Secretary of Transportation filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The defendant argued, among other things, that the plaintiffs had failed to contact an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor "within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory," as they were required to do under applicable regulations. See Defendant's Renewed Motion to Dismiss or, In the Alternative, for Summary Judgment at 19-24. The Court denied the defendant's motion on March 29, 2007. See Coghlan v. Peters, Civil Action No. 05-1476, Order (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2007).

On May 29, 2007, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ledbetter, ruling that where a plaintiff claims that her employer determined her rate of pay in a discriminatory manner, the applicable statute of limitations begins to run at the time that the "pay-setting decision" occurs; it is not triggered anew with the issuance of each paycheck whose amount was determined by the "pay-setting decision." Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. at 621, 628. Because the Supreme Court's decision had implications for Mr. Coghlan's and Mr. O'Hara's claims, this Court vacated its order denying the defendant's dispositive motion and ordered the parties to submit supplemental memoranda assessing the impact of Ledbetter on the claims of the plaintiffs in this case. See Coghlan v. Peters, Civil Action No. 05-1476, Order (D.D.C. May 30, 2007).

On March 31, 2008, the Court concluded that the plaintiffs' claims were barred under Ledbetter and issued an order entering judgment for the defendant. That March 31, 2008 Order was explained in an Opinion issued on May 28, 2008. See Coghlan v. Peters, 555 F. Supp. 2d 187 (D.D.C. 2008). The Court determined that the most recent "pay-setting decisions" complained of by Mr. Coghlan and Mr. O'Hara were made on or about January 11, 2004, and November 9, 2004, respectively. See Coghlan v. Peters, 555 F. Supp. 2d at 199. Under the logic of Ledbetter, those dates marked the start of the 45-day period during which the plaintiffs had been required to initiate administrative proceedings challenging the relevant pay-setting decision, which the plaintiffs had failed to do. Id. at 199-202. The Court specifically rejected as foreclosed by the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter the plaintiffs' argument that "each paycheck [affected by a challenged pay-setting decision], even if not accompanied by discriminatory intent, triggers a new EEOC charging period during which the complainant may properly challenge [paychecks within that charging period and] any prior discriminatory conduct that impacted the amount of that paycheck." Id. at 203 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

In January of 2009, Congress passed and the President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, overturning the Ledbetter decision. The Act amended the ADEA, among other civil rights laws, to provide:

For purposes of [the ADEA], an unlawful practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this Act, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when a person becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when a person is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.

Pub. L. No. 111-2, § 4 (amending 29 U.S.C. § 626(d)). "In other words, [under this Act] each paycheck resulting from the 'original compensation decision or other practice' triggers a new filing period" during which a claim challenging the "original compensation decision" may be timely brought, even if the compensation decision itself was made long before. Johnson v. District of Columbia, 632 F. Supp. 2d 20, 22 (D.D.C. 2009). "[T]he [Lilly Ledbetter Act] effectively nullified the Ledbetter decision." Id. (quoting Reed v. Kucera, Civil Action No. 08-3132, 2009 WL 1451568, at *2 (D. Neb. May 20, 2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, Congress specified that the statutory amendments effected by the Act, including those to the ADEA, would "take effect as if enacted on May 28, 2007 and apply to all claims of discrimination in compensation under . . . [the ADEA] . . . that are pending on or after that date." Pub. L. No. 111-2, § 6.

On February 9, 2009, the plaintiffs filed a motion to reopen this case in light of the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. While that motion was pending, Mr. Coghlan entered into a settlement agreement with the defendant that resolved his claims. See Notice of Filing, Docket No. 35, at 1 (filed Aug. 25, 2009). In response, Mr. O'Hara filed the pending motion to name Lockett K. Yee as a new co-plaintiff.

On September 15, 2009, the Court denied the plaintiffs' motion to reopen the case without prejudice, asking the parties to file new motion papers updated to account for recent case law analyzing the impact of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. See O'Hara v. LaHood, Civil Action No. 05-1476, Minute Order (D.D.C. Sept. 15, 2009). The plaintiff then filed a renewed motion to reopen, which is now ripe for decision.

II. DISCUSSION

The plaintiffs have moved under Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for vacatur of the Court's final order of March 31, 2008, entering judgment in favor of the ...


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