United States District Court, District of Columbia
July 19, 2013
ARTHUR GILBERT, Plaintiff,
JANET NAPOLITANO, Defendant
Decided: July 16, 2013.
For ARTHUR GILBERT, Plaintiff: Leizer Z. Goldsmith, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE GOLDSMITH LAW FIRM, LLC, Washington, DC.
For JANET A. NAPOLITANO, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Defendant: John G. Interrante, Michelle Lo, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.
RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Arthur Gilbert (" plaintiff" or " Gilbert" ) is suing Janet Napolitano in her official capacity as Secretary of Homeland Security. A former employee of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (" CBP" or " Customs" ), Gilbert alleges that CBP discriminated and retaliated against him by denying his applications for a promotion in favor of younger white candidates. See Third Am. Compl. (" TAC" ) [Dkt. #57]. Before the Court is Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment as to Claims Stemming from Selection of John Milne (" Def.'s Renewed Mot." ) [Dkt. #85]. Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, relevant law, and the entire record therein, the motion is GRANTED.
For detailed recitations of the facts underlying all of plaintiff's claims, see Gilbert v. Napolitano , 670 F.3d 258, 259-60, 399 U.S. App. D.C. 293 (D.C. Cir. 2012), and Gilbert v. Napolitano , 760 F.Supp.2d 21, 23-25 (D.D.C. 2011). Seeing no reason to retread the same background information a third time, I will focus on the one remaining claim now at issue.
Plaintiff alleges that CBP discriminated against him based on his age and race, and retaliated against him for past Equal Employment Opportunity (" EEO" ) activity, when it chose John Milne (" Milne" ) over him from the list of best-qualified applicants (" the best-qualified list" ) for promotion to a GS-14 position (" the Milne promotion" ). TAC ¶ ¶ 109-14; 280-92. On January 12, 2011, I granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on these claims because plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Final Judgment [Dkt. #74]; Gilbert , 760 F.Supp.2d at 29-30. Our Circuit Court, however, reversed that decision, holding that Customs forfeited the failure-to-exhaust defense by failing to raise it in its answer to the complaint. See Mandate of USCA [Dkt. #78]; Gilbert , 670 F.3d at 260-61. The Court noted, however, that " defendant may seek leave to amend its answer on remand." Id. at 261 (citing Harris v. Sec'y, U.S. Dep't of Veterans Affairs , 126 F.3d 339, 345, 326 U.S. App. D.C. 362 (D.C. Cir. 1997)). And so it did!
Upon its return to this Court, CBP heeded our Circuit Court's advice and amended its answer to include an exhaustion defense. See Am. Answer to TAC at 1 [Dkt. #84]. Defendant now renews its motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims arising from the Milne promotion. See Def.'s Renewed Mot. at 1; Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Mem." ) at 10-12 [Dkt. #85]. Plaintiff, naturally, opposes the motion. See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp, to Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (" Pl.'s Mem." ) [Dkt. #87]. Unfortunately for Gilbert, the Court again finds that his failure to exhaust his administrative remedies entitles defendant to summary judgment.
The Court grants a motion for summary judgment when " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Although the burden is on the movant to show that there is no dispute of fact, the non-moving party also bears the " burden of producing in turn evidence that would support a jury verdict." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. ,
477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The non-moving party " may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id.
To the extent the non-moving party will bear the burden of proving facts at trial, those facts must be supported by competent evidence, see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), and the absence of such evidence can form the basis for summary judgment, see id. at 322-23. Finally, " if the evidence presented by the opposing party is 'merely colorable' or 'not significantly probative,' summary judgment may be granted," Burke v. Gould , 286 F.3d 513, 520, 351 U.S. App. D.C. 1 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson , 477 U.S. at 249-50), because the " possibility that a jury might speculate in the plaintiff's favor . . . is simply insufficient to defeat summary judgment," Montgomery v. Chao , 546 F.3d 703, 708, 383 U.S. App. D.C. 290 (D.C. Cir. 2008); see also Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252 (" The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." ).
It is well-established that federal employees must exhaust administrative remedies before bringing lawsuits in federal court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq. , or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § § 621 et seq.  See Payne v. Salazar , 619 F.3d 56, 65, 393 U.S. App. D.C. 112 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citing Bowden , 106 F.3d at 437); Nguyen v. Mabus , 895 F.Supp.2d 158, 171 (D.D.C. 2012) (citing Harris v. Gonzales , 488 F.3d 442, 443, 376 U.S. App. D.C. 289 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and Washington v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth. , 160 F.3d 750, 752, 333 U.S. App. D.C. 121 (D.C. Cir. 1998)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c) (Title VII); 29 U.S.C. § 633a(b)-(d) (ADEA). " This administrative exhaustion requirement applies to all discrete acts of discrimination or retaliation." Nurriddin v. Goldin , 382 F.Supp.2d 79, 92 (D.D.C. 2005).
Now that Customs has pleaded its exhaustion defense in an amended answer, the Court again finds that CBP is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Gilbert failed to exhaust administrative remedies for his claims based on the Milne promotion. Gilbert in fact concedes that " he did not separately bring a new non-promotion complaint regarding the particular HQOFO/01-005KBS register" that resulted in Milne's promotion. Pl.'s Mem. at 5. Nor did he file anything to amend or otherwise update his existing complaint. See id. at 15 (after learning that Milne was promoted, " Gilbert did not submit anything new at that time" ).
Nevertheless, plaintiff contends that he should be permitted to litigate the Milne promotion because: (1) it was included in his September 2001 EEO complaint, see
Pl.'s Mem. at 3-5; (2) it is " like or related to" the other claims included in his complaint, see id. at 6-14; and (3) it would be inequitable to enforce the exhaustion requirement, see id. at 14-17. For the following reasons, I find none of these arguments persuasive.
A. Gilbert Did Not Raise the Milne Promotion in His September 2001 EEO Complaint.
As an initial matter, it is impossible for Gilbert's September 10, 2001 complaint to have included claims based on the Milne promotion because the best-qualified list for that opening was not submitted until November 29, 2001, more than eleven weeks after the complaint was filed, see Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Issues (" Pl.'s SGI" ) at 3 [Dkt. #88], and Milne's promotion must have occurred on or after that date.  Absent the gift of prophecy--which Gilbert undoubtedly would have referenced in the many lengthy discussions about his skills and accomplishments found throughout this record, see, e.g. , Pl.'s SGI, Ex. 22 (2013 Declaration of Arthur Gilbert); Pl.'s SGI at 8-15; Pl.'s Mem. at 22-25--plaintiff could not in mid-September have alleged discrimination premised on an employment action that took place two months later. 
B. Plaintiff's Claims Arising Out of the Milne Promotion Are Not " Like or Related to" the Claims in His Complaint.
Furthermore, plaintiff's Milne-promotion claims are not " like or related to" the other claims included in his EEO complaint. Our Circuit held in Payne v. Salazar that an unfiled discrimination claim is " like or related to" a filed claim only if an investigation of the unfiled claim would " arise from the administrative investigation that can reasonably be expected to follow the charge of discrimination." 619 F.3d 56, 65, 393 U.S. App. D.C. 112 (D.C. Cir. 2010); see also Weber v. Battista , 494 F.3d 179, 184, 377 U.S. App. D.C. 347 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (a " like or related" claim is one that " could have reasonably been expected to grow out of [the] earlier complaint" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Plaintiff's claims relating to the November Milne promotion could not reasonably have been expected to arise or grow out of--and in fact, did not arise or grow out of--the investigation of his September EEO complaint.
Plaintiff's EEO complaint was dated September 12, 2001 and it alleged the " most recent discriminatory event occur[red]" on " 070101/throughout year." Pl.'s SGI, Ex. 5 at 2. It did not identify a single discriminatory or retaliatory act after
July of 2001. See id. It did not mention Milne, the November 29, 2001 best-qualified list, or the position to which Milne was promoted.  See id. While it is, of course, possible that an EEO investigator might choose to expand an investigation beyond the scope of the complaint and ferret out any new acts of discrimination that may occur after the complaint was filed, it is not in all cases reasonable to expect the investigator to do so. In Payne , for instance, the court held that an investigation of an unfiled claim could not have arisen from an ongoing investigation because the events underlying the unfiled claim occurred after the investigation ended. 619 F.3d at 65.
Likewise, it would have been entirely unreasonable to expect the investigator in Gilbert's case to have investigated the events surrounding the November 29, 2001 best-qualified list for one simple reason: he told Gilbert that he was not investigating it. As of January 29, 2002--two whole months after the November list was submitted--plaintiff had clear notice that the investigation had not in fact expanded to include claims relating to the Milne promotion, see Pl.'s SGI, Ex. 2, and plaintiff took no action at that time.
In an affidavit signed and sworn on that date, Gilbert answered a number of questions posed by the EEO investigator, Lewis Munoz. See id. Most of the questions fell under one of three headings, each covering an " Issue" raised in plaintiff's EEO complaint. See id. at 2, 8, 11. Issue one focused on non-promotions " [c]ommencing June 2000 to July 2001." Id. at 2. Issue two was plaintiff's reassignment to a new division " [o]n July 1, 2001." Id. at 8. Issue three addressed working conditions " commencing June 2000 to June 1, 2001." Id. at 11. The questions gave no indication that the November best-qualified list or the Milne promotion had arisen during the investigation. Quite to the contrary, the affidavit's framing of the issues made clear that the investigation was focused on events that occurred between June 2000 and July 2001. And, as discussed at greater length below, plaintiff's responses did not provide notice that the investigation should expand to cover the Milne promotion. See id. It therefore would have been unreasonable to expect that the November best-qualified list or the Milne promotion were part of the investigation. 
C. Assuming the Milne Promotion Claims are "Like or Related," Plaintiff Still Failed to Exhaust His Administrative Remedies.
In addition, even if the Milne-promotion claims are " like or related" to those in the complaint, that would have allowed plaintiff to bypass certain steps in the administrative process but would not allow him to forego administrative exhaustion entirely, which is what plaintiff seeks to do in this case.
Our Circuit has held that, once a claimant has filed a complaint, he can forego administrative counseling on any subsequent claims that are " like or related to" the claims already in the complaint. See Weber , 494 F.3d at 183-84. Instead of going through that first phase of administrative review, as required by 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a), the claimant can simply amend his complaint pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(d) and bring the new " like or related" claims directly to the investigator. Weber , 494 F.3d at 184-85.
Gilbert did not do that, however. Unlike the plaintiff in Weber , plaintiff did not " sen[d] a memo to the EEO office indicating [his] wish to amend [his] charges." Pl.'s Mem. at 7; see Weber , 494 F.3d at 181. Nor did plaintiff " file a motion with the administrative judge to amend [his] complaint to include issues or claims like or related to those raised in the complaint," as contemplated by 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(d)--the regulation that plaintiff notes was " emphasized" in the Weber decision. Pl.'s Mem. at 7. Plaintiff points to just one document--his January 29, 2002 affidavit, Pl.'s SGI, Ex. 2--as evidence that he raised the Milne promotion with the EEOC. See Pl.'s Mem. at 5, 8. But on its face, the affidavit does not mention Milne's promotion or plaintiff's non-promotion from the November 29, 2001 best-qualified list. It merely notes that " [o]n 112901 list was referred for additional selection to be made no later than 030102." Pl.'s SGI, Ex. 2 at 3. Such passing mention of the " 112901" best-qualified list, without more, would not notify the investigator that plaintiff was amending his complaint to include claims arising from the Milne promotion. Nowhere else in the affidavit did plaintiff reference a new claim, or even correct the investigator's clear understanding that the claims were based on non-promotions between " June 2000 [and] July 2001." See supra. Gilbert thus did not exhaust even those lesser administrative remedies required for " like or related" claims that arise after a complaint is filed. 
D. There Is No Equitable Basis for Excusing Plaintiff's Failure to Exhaust.
Finally, the Court is not moved by either of plaintiff's equitable arguments.
First, even assuming Investigator Munoz incorrectly advised plaintiff that he need not take any steps to bring claims based on the Milne promotion, that would at most excuse plaintiff's failure to pursue administrative relief within the proscribed time limits; it would not excuse his total " fail[ure] to exhaust or even to begin his administrative remedies." Siegel v. Kreps , 654 F.2d 773, 777, 210 U.S. App. D.C. 58 (D.C. Cir. 1981); see also id. at 778 n.14 (" Even if appellant had established a justifiable reliance on . . . erroneous advice, he would, at most, be entitled to a waiver of the time limits for the initiation of a complaint with the administrative agency rather than to the right to institute a civil action." ).  And any reliance on such advice would have been unreasonable, given that plaintiff had already received notice that the investigation was, up to that point, limited to non-promotions from " June 2000 to July 2001," not any subsequent non-promotions under the same vacancy announcement numbers. See Pl.'s SGI, Ex. 2. 
Nor does this case present " the highly unusual circumstances" that led the court in Brown v. Marsh to find that enforcing administrative exhaustion requirements would be " unconscionable." 777 F.2d 8, 17-18, 250 U.S. App. D.C. 8 (D.C. Cir. 1985). In that case, the claimant had " dealt extensively with EEO Counselors." Id. at 17. He " filed numerous complaints," which had " gone up and down the judicial and administrative hierarchy and then up and down again." Id. The claimant was " living far from this forum" and " put to considerable trouble and expense," and at least five different federal courts' " resources . . . [were] liberally expended in attempting to resolve various aspects of the dispute." Id. Moreover, the claimant's failure to exhaust administrative remedies was the ground for dismissing the entire case, not one particular claim. Id. at 11-12.
The procedural history of this case pales in comparison to Brown . Compare Gilbert v. Napolitano , 670 F.3d at 259-60, with Brown , 777 F.2d at 9-11. Gilbert filed only one EEO complaint, and there is no evidence that he ever had extensive dealings with counselors. His case was litigated in only one jurisdiction, and it went " up . . . the judicial and administrative hierarchy"
only once prior to our Circuit Court's remand last year. Most importantly, dismissing plaintiff's Milne-promotion claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies would not put plaintiff out of court or mean that all of the discovery and litigation to date was for naught, as was the case in Brown. Gilbert has already had the opportunity to litigate all of his claims up to our Circuit Court. It is only this one discrete instance of non-promotion--a small piece of plaintiff's overall case-- that will be dismissed on the ground that it was not administratively exhausted. In my judgment, such an outcome is both conscionable and required by law. 
For all the foregoing reasons, Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment as to Claims Stemming from Selection of John Milne [Dkt. #85] is hereby GRANTED. An appropriate order shall accompany this Memorandum Opinion.