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Mills v. Hayden

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 4, 2018

CARLA HAYDEN, in her official capacity as Librarian of Congress, Defendant.


          JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge

         Pro se Plaintiff Christine M. Mills, a long-time employee of the Library of Congress's Collection Access, Loan Management (CALM) Division, brings this suit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16, and of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. She principally claims that the Library passed her up for a promotion on the basis of her race, national origin, color, and sex, and in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. Librarian Carla Hayden now moves to dismiss on two grounds. First, she argues that Plaintiff's entire suit is time-barred; second, she alternatively asserts that Mills failed to properly exhaust her national-origin claim. Disagreeing on both scores, the Court must deny the Motion.

         I. Background

         According to her Complaint, which the Court must presume true at this stage, Mills is a 34-year veteran of the (somewhat inaptly named) CALM Division. See Compl. at 5. Starting in 2007, she repeatedly applied for - and was denied - promotions, watching the Library fill each position with employees from outside the Division. Id. at 4-5. Finally, in 2016, she sought one of two open positions as a Reference Library Technician within CALM, but the Library once again tapped out-of-house employees for the slots. Id. at 5.

         Apparently reaching a tipping point after having been denied at least eight positions in ten years, Mills filed an informal complaint with the Library on June 16, 2017, attributing her non-selection to her race, sex, and age, and to retaliation. See Compl., Exh. A (Informal Complaint). Shortly thereafter, she followed up with a formal complaint along the same lines, tacking on color and national origin as additional bases for the alleged discrimination. See MTD, Exh. 3 (EEO Complaint). After an investigation, the Designee of the Chief of the Library's Equal Employment Office/Diversity Program (EEO/DP) issued a Decision Letter, dated February 3, 2017, finding insufficient evidence to support Plaintiff's claims. See MTD, Exh. 1 (Decision Letter) at 1, 8. Consistent with the Library of Congress's internal regulations, the letter advised Mills that she would have five workdays after receipt to request reconsideration or fifteen workdays to request a hearing or a Final Agency Decision without a hearing. Id. at 8 (citing LCR 2010-3.1 § 10). Finally, it alerted her: “If you do not timely seek a hearing or Final Decision from the Librarian without a hearing, this decision shall constitute the Library's Final Agency Decision.” Id. at 8.

         Plaintiff failed to meet either deadline. Her request for reconsideration came due on February 10, but she waited until February 24 to ask for an extension. See Compl., Exh. B at 1. The agency declined to excuse the delay, informing her as much on two separate occasions. Id. at 2, 4. Likewise, Mills needed to request a hearing (or a Final Decision without a hearing) by February 27 but took no such action until March 21. Id. at 5. Once again, the agency denied her request as untimely. Id. at 7. She ultimately brought this suit on June 27. See ECF No. 1.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Librarian first argues that Plaintiff's suit is untimely and the Court should thus dismiss it under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). That Rule provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation omitted).

         In weighing a motion to dismiss, a court “may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [the court] may take judicial notice.” Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial School, 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The Court “must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant [the] plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (citation omitted). It need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” or an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Even at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, a Court can review “documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, ” or “documents upon which the plaintiff's complaint necessarily relies even if the document is produced not by the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a motion to dismiss.” Ward v. D.C. Dep't of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768 F.Supp.2d 117, 119 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations omitted); see also Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119, 1134 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“A district court may consider a document that a complaint specifically references without converting the motion into one for summary judgment.”). In this case, Mills has failed to attach the Decision Letter to her Complaint, but her exhibits frequently nod to it. Defendant has included a valid copy with its Motion to Dismiss, see MTD, Exh. 1, so the Court may properly consider that document.

         Defendant alternatively moves to dismiss at least one of Plaintiff's claims for lack of jurisdiction, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). To survive such a motion, Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear her claims. See DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, 342 & n.3 (2006); Arpaio v. Obama, 797 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015). A court has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Additionally, unlike with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “may consider materials outside the pleadings in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. . . .” Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005); see also Venetian Casino Resort, L.L.C. v. EEOC, 409 F.3d 359, 366 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

         III. Analysis

         The Librarian maintains that because Plaintiff failed to timely file suit, this case must be dismissed. At a minimum, she contends that the Court should toss Mills's national-origin claim for failure to exhaust. The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         A. Statute ...

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